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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 13, 2010

Big Isle fire scorches 600 acres

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Big Island fire crews last night continued to battle a large brushfire that burned more than 600 acres and prompted the temporary evacuation of dozens of homes in the Kawaihae area of Kohala.

As of 6:30 p.m., the fire was not under control, but it was not threatening any property, said Assistant Chief Ralph Yawata of the Hawai'i County Fire Department. There were no reports of injuries or property damage, he said.

The fire was reported just before 1 p.m. near the 65-mile marker of Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway. The first fire companies on the scene reported that about 50 acres of brush were burning.

Yawata said strong winds with gusts up to 40 mph were fanning the fire. He said reaching the fire also posed a problem for firefighters.

"It was basically a grass and brush type of fire so that wasn't a problem," Yawata said. "Just getting everybody to the fire and the wind was definitely a factor. It made it spread very quickly. It was really going there for a moment."

The fire and smoke forced the closure of Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway and Kawaihae Road about 3 p.m. The highway was reopened about 6 p.m.

The fire got to within half a mile of some homes, and Hawai'i County Civil Defense evacuated residents of Kawaihae Village, the Kawaihae transitional housing, and some homes in the Hāpuna Beach and Mauna Kea Beach resort areas. A dozen people showed up at emergency centers at the Waikoloa Elementary School and the Waimea Recreation Center, said Quince Mento, Civil Defense administrator.

He said residents were allowed to return to their homes about 6 p.m.

Yawata said fire crews would remain at the scene through the night to prevent the fire from spreading.

"We still anticipate the winds to pick up later and change direction, so we're still not taking it lightly," Yawata said. "We're still being aggressive."

The cause of the fire is under investigation, although fire officials say it may have been started by a spark from a lawn mower.