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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, December 19, 2009

Big Island fire still burning, but is contained

By Kim Eaton
West Hawaii Today

About 1,500 acres -- mostly South Kona pastureland -- continued to burn Friday evening, replacing West Hawaii's usual vog with the pungent smell of smoke.

Hawaii County and volunteer firefighters continued battling a brush fire at Hokukano Ranch, approximately six miles above Konawaena High School. The fire had not been extinguished as of press time, but bulldozer breaks had been established around the entire fire.

"This fire is far from over. There's a lot of active burning inside the break," said Marshall Luke, West Hawaii battalion chief. "Our job now is to keep an eye on the breaks, keep the fire contained and hopefully get it extinguished over the next two or three days."

While no communities were threatened and all roads remained open, until the fire is completely extinguished, smoke will likely continue to linger in North and South Kona, he added.

About 50 firefighters and community volunteers battled the blaze that was reported late Thursday afternoon, with the help of three privately owned bulldozers and three privately owned water tankers, as well as a fire department tanker, brush truck and two utility vehicles. Two county helicopters also provided water bucket drops in areas that were inaccessible to firefighters.

The bulldozers remained at the scene Friday night with a handful of firefighters to keep a watch throughout the evening, Luke said. Helicopter operations, however, were halted at night.

"The fire breaks put in seemed to have been holding throughout the day," he said, adding that the breaks were widened wherever possible. "The challenge was the very dry fuel conditions that made the fire move faster than normal, which made us fight a much larger fire over a larger geographic area."

The fire has been fueled by pasture grass, heavy brush and light to moderately sized ohia trees, said Fire Chief Darryl Oliveira, adding the heavier the logs, the longer it takes to burn itself out.

Firefighters now will continue to patrol the perimeter of the fire, and as the fire burns up to the break, make sure it doesn't sneak through or jump over, he added.

The fire's cause is under investigation, Luke said.

"Anything can start a brush fire," he said. "The entire island has seen drought conditions and there's a high susceptibility to brush fires until we get sufficient rain. We just urge the public to be cautious, especially with the holidays coming up."