POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A massive brushfire, which started early Sunday morning near the entrance to Mauna Kea State Park remains 60% contained, according to officials with the Department of Land and Natural Resources. It has burned an estimated 1,387 acres over six days.
The Saddle Road, closed since Sunday, reopened early Wednesday morning. Authorities are still detouring traffic onto Old Saddle Road at mile marker 29 and then back on the new Saddle Road at mile marker 34.5. Drivers are urged to use caution.
Friday, over 150 fire fighters were on the scene, hoping to eliminate the fire, but the fire remained constant.
Officials say they will probably need to remain working on the fire through the weekend. Fire engines continue the mop up effort and patrol areas on Saddle Road. The fire department is also continuing to address flare-ups.
Lava and volcanic ash plus the steep terrain are causing safety hazards for the crews. Power and communication lines are being worked on.
Thursday morning, fire fighting teams numbering 151 fought the fire, with winds gusting up to 22 miles per hour. The fire actually caused an extreme fire phenomenon called a fire whirl. It happens when the winds are just right, with low humidity. It was circulating clockwise. Normally twisters like this spin counter clockwise.
Crews continued to put a 3.5 mile, hand-cut, fire line above the upper edge of the fire where bulldozers cannot operate. They were also working to keep the fire from moving uphill into critical habitat areas.
Wednesday, there were approximately 110 firefighting personnel on scene. Five helicopters were involved with the effort, including two Hawaii Air National Guard Blackhawks and a crew of 10 Guardsmen. Bulldozers continued to fortify firebreaks. The bulk of the firefighters are working in steep inaccessible areas where the fire is not contained and heavy equipment cannot be used.
"If the weather stays the same, there is a good chance we can continue to make progress. But there is still a very real threat that if the wind should pick up, the fire could take off again into critical habitat for endangered palila forest birds" said Roger Imoto, DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife Hawaii branch manager.
Tuesday, Big Island police arrested a 31-year-old Papaikou man for first degree arson. Christopher M. Pratt was discovered near the blaze when firefighters arrived, and was taken to the Hilo Medical Center for treatment. After he was released from the hospital, police took him into custody. Pratt was held overnight and then released pending further investigation.
Photo source: Raymond Busniewski via Connect Now