Brush fire threatens Molokai, Hawaii

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Island of Molokai, South Coast
Image: Forest & Kim Starr.
A CH-47 Chinook during a training mission. The 2000 gallon bucket is clearly visible beneath it

Two CH-47 Chinook helicopters were called in on Wednesday, September 2nd, to help contain the wildfires on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai.

Smaller helicopters that were fighting the fire since it started around noon on August 29th were redeployed as well.

According to Gen Iinuma, Maui County Civil Defense administrator, the CH-47s carry 2000-gallon buckets of water, whereas the smaller helicopters only have 100-gallon buckets. The Chinooks can dump more water in fewer trips than the smaller helicopters. On the other hand, the tremendous downdraft from the bigger aircraft may make the fire worse.

"If they don't do it right, they'll fan the fire," Iinuma said.

According to Iinuma, ground crews are continuing to maintain the fire's perimeter, which remained unchanged from Tuesday. The helicopters are being used to fight the fires where ground crews can't reach, such as steep mountain passes and valleys.

Iinuma also expressed concern about a red flag advisory the National Weather service put out for all leeward areas of the Hawaiian Islands, meaning conditions are ripe for fires.

Lieutenant Governor James "Duke" Aiona, who took an aerial survey of Molokai's brush fire area, said it was "no immediate threat". He also noted that the fire seemed to come right up to the perimeter of some properties, but almost always stopped there.

Aiona's observations are mirrored by a local business owners' story. The wildfires destroyed the beehives of Molokai Meli, a family-owned honey business in Kapaakea, but residents admit that the beehives were not their main concern.

"We were just beating the edges with wet towels and sheets to try and keep it from getting to the houses that are just right over that ridge," said co-owner Brenda Kaneshiro. Luckily, the property was spared, though the beehives weren't.

"All that metal right there, that's where they all were, there were 33 of them," said Elijah Kaneshiro, the owner's son.