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KIHEI, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) -
Residents in South Maui say it's not unusual to have some ash fallout when sugar cane fields are burned before harvesting. But some said that the ash fall from a cane burn Friday morning was excessive.
Photos taken Friday at the Kihei Villages Condominiums showed black ash blanketing cars, sidewalks and the parking lot. The pictures on MauiNow.com were taken by resident Lyn Lopez.
"The pictures really don't show how big the chunks are," said Lopez. "And what was amazing is that every single surface was covered, including the trees and the roofs."
Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company said it burned a field off Mokulele Highway just outside Kihei at 4 a.m.
"Today was really excessive," said Lopez. "It's not that it doesn't happen, it actually happens pretty regularly when they're burning anywhere on this side of the island. But today was just really unbelievable."
In a statement, HC&S General Manager Rick Volner said, "While the wind conditions were good for harvesting this particular field, resulting in no smoke impacts to Kihei town, these same wind conditions resulted in the ash plume staying relatively close to the burn area, so there was heavier than usual ash fallout in that immediate area."
The statement continued, "We apologize for the inconvenience that it caused to residents and thank the community for their patience during this harvesting period."
The practice of cane burning has been a hot button issue on Maui, where HC&S is the state's last remaining sugar plantation.
Both sides have held rallies, with critics claiming that the practice of burning the cane is a health hazard. Supporters counter that stopping the burning will shut down HC&S and put more than 800 people out of work.
For Lopez and others in Kihei, Friday morning's burn was just frustrating to deal with.
"Literally pounds and pounds," he said. "I mean, you walk out and all you hear is 'crunch, crunch, crunch.'"
HC&S said it tries to burn cane "when weather conditions are at an optimum."
The company's Web site said it has another burn scheduled north of Maalaea Saturday between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.