A wildland fire that closed large portions of Kauai's North Shore on Tuesday is believed to have been accidentally ignited during an ancient Hawaiian fire-throwing ceremony, according to a state Department of Land and Natural Resources spokesperson.
Photos taken Tuesday evening on Kauai depict ‘Oahi O Makana – a ceremony in which a flaming spear is thrown from cliffs high above sea level. The event was part of a welcoming ritual for the voyaging canoe Hokulea, but it was in no way affiliated with official festivities, the family behind the ceremony says.
The family is now apologizing, saying they never intended any of this to happen.
Koral McCarthy's fiance, Moku Puulei-Chandler, and his father, Moku Sr., climbed the mountain Monday.
"It wasn't an intention to start anything to hurt anybody or to stop any roads. There was never that intention. If that happened on behalf of the family we apologize," McCarthy said.
Ancient Hawaiians held the ceremony to mark great occasions and special ceremonies.
"This is something they mentally, physically have to prepare themselves for," McCarthy said.
The pair carried Hau branches to light, twirl and throw. McCarthy thinks wind grabbed the embers and blew them back onto the mountain.
"They get this rhythm down of spinning and they come off the mountain and catch the wind, they and the embers fly out," McCarthy said. "It's beautiful. Usually, the flame dies out along the way down."
Firefighters from the DLNR remain on the scene of the fire, which has grown to approximately 100 square acres. Authorities say the blaze is burning between Haena State Park and Limahuli Gardens, but has been fully contained.
As for whether the father and son could face a fine or penalty, DLNR communications manager Dan Dennison said the state hasn't determined that the activity occurred on DLNR land.
"If it didn't, we'd have no enforcement authority," he said.
The park remains closed to visitors, as does access to the popular Kalalau Trail. Park officials say rangers are posted at the hike's trailhead and are turning would-be adventure-goers around.
A visitor who recently had to evacuate her home in Oregon due to a big wildfire there was turned away at the trailhead.
"We were really excited to not breathe forest fire, and we were heading out toward the trail and I smelled forest fire, and I figured that couldn't be. Must be someone burning in their backyard. We came up to the trailhead and we got turned around by a police officer," said visitor Annika Mongan.
Wildfire experts said despite drought conditions for most of the state, this summer has been relative quiet for fires until recently.
"About 90 percent of the state has been in drought conditions since July so we've sort of been watching the weather and known that it's been primed for fires to start. but it's just been the past week that we've seen the activity kind of spike," said Clay Trauernicht, a wildfire specialist with the University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension.
Maui and the Big Island have also had their share of decent-sized brush fires this week.
A couple of helicopters made water drops while crews on the ground fought the flames.
"Even though Kauai, on the north side, hasn't been declared under a drought condition, obviously it was dry enough for a fire to start up. What's really driving that is not so much the trees drying out but it's sort of the underbrush below," said Trauernicht.
For more information on drought conditions and fire safety tips, click here.