Maui brushfire the latest flare-up in drought-stricken Hawaii - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Maui brushfire the latest flare-up in drought-stricken Hawaiian Islands

Mahina Martin Mahina Martin
Lester Ueda Lester Ueda
Kevin Kodama Kevin Kodama

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

KAHULUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's another scorching example. As the driest state in the country, Hawaii got a scary reminder on Tuesday about how a drought can spark a fire emergency.

Parts of the state are in such desperate need of rain, some are half-hoping Hurricane Celia mosies our way.

A 25-acre wildfire caused big trouble near the Kahului airport Tuesday afternoon.

Our viewers' snapshots captured heavy smoke and flames that shut down parts of Hana Highway, blocking the route to upcountry Maui.

"Traffic was really bad. We had to take quite a few detours. We were on the road for about 50 minutes trying to get to work," said Rachelle Meadows, an employee at Kmart in Kahului.

The roads reopened by 6:00 p.m. after a four hour battle involving 30 firefighters.

It's the second Maui wildfire this month.

Remember the Maalaea blaze? It was fueled by strong winds and a record dry spell, a one-two punch for county fire crews.

"This is the worst drought we've had in 30 years. We're the only county with three islands so whenever fire breaks out, the impacts are huge to our infrastructure, our visitors, as well as our residents," said Mahina Martin, Maui County Spokesperson.

The U.S. Drought Monitor ranks Hawaii the worst in the country.

The red stands for extreme drought.

Maroon is the worst. It stands for exceptional drought, as marked in the Kohala area on the Big Island.

Parched land there is putting farmers in jeopardy.

"Without assistance, some of them would go out of business, that's how bad it is. I thought 2008 was bad. 2010 is worse," said Lester Ueda, Executive Director of the Farm Service Agency on the Big Island.

And it's not just worse than before, it's the worst drought on record, according to hydrologist Kevin Kodama of the National Weather Service.

"This is the worst we've seen in Hawaii," said Kodama.

And the next wet season doesn't begin until October.

"The only exception may be if we get a tropical cyclone or the remnant of one which is not the best way to get drought relief of course," said Kodama.

Which brings us to Hurricane Celia.

It's still too early to say if the system will bring Hawaii any rain, but some farmers may already be cheering the storm on.

The National Weather Service says it should know more about Hawaii's rain potential within five to seven days, as it moves closer to the islands.

Copyright 2010 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

Photo source: Asa Ellison

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