Firefighters, mainland personnel make headway in fight against Mauna Loa brush fire

30 mainland personnel join multi-agency fight against Mauna Loa brush fire
The fire raged on Tuesday as firefighters figured out their plan of attack. (Image: NPS)
The fire raged on Tuesday as firefighters figured out their plan of attack. (Image: NPS)
The plume was visible for miles and the area remained closed to traffic. (Image: NPS)
The plume was visible for miles and the area remained closed to traffic. (Image: NPS)
Brush fire on Mauna Loa burning native plants. (Image: National Park Service)
Brush fire on Mauna Loa burning native plants. (Image: National Park Service)
Brushfire burning on Mauna Loa crosses into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (Image: National Park Service)
Brushfire burning on Mauna Loa crosses into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (Image: National Park Service)

MAUNA LOA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Fire crews on Hawaii Island are battling a huge wildfire on the slopes of Mauna Loa for the seventh day in a row, but Honolulu firefighters say they are making significant headway.

The large fire has already scorched over 3,700 acres of land in the Big Island and on Wednesday, the Keauhou Fire was just 5 percent contained. Firefighters have made an impressive amount of progress since then, and as of Monday afternoon, the blaze is 80 percent percent contained.

Officials said on Sunday that they credit the gained ground to the resilience of county firefighters, and favorable weather conditions.

Crews have successfully been able to prevent the wildfire from spreading towards the Volcano Golf Course community or into the Kipuka Ki area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

"Kipuka Ki represents old-growth forest, among the rarest in the world." explained Rhonda Loh, a resource advisor at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

At stake are ohia, koa and manele trees," Loh said. "Really the park contains the last remaining fragments of this forest type worldwide, so if we lose that here, you lose it globally, and they provide a habitat for dozens of rare plants and animals."

Jessica Ferracane, a public affairs specialist with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park previously said the same; "The fire has scorched native koa forest, which provides important habitat to endangered and endemic species like the Hawaiian hawk and Hawaiian bat,"

Officials say they're hoping to protect these irreplaceable resources by using the area's natural features to their advantage as barriers that will prevent flames from burning down slope.

"Being on the slopes of Mauna Loa, we do have many lava flows that isolate pockets of vegetation and fortunately those lava flows are helping us to contain the fire in between areas that won't burn," said Greg Funderburk, the fire management officer at HVNP.

Officials say this is an area that can typically get so dry they had two water tanks installed years ago so that crews would have immediate access.

The tanks have been proven to be extremely beneficial as the Keauhou Fire grew 474 acres since Wednesday — after more than doubling in size the day before.

"The fire was really growing due to the strong winds and low relatively humidity, (Wednesday) we had a break in that where the humidity levels were much higher and we had less wind. So that's allowed us to take more aggressive action on the fire," Funderburk said.

Altogether 93 federal, state, county and volunteer firefighters — including a crew that flew in on Thursday from California — are working to combat the wildfire and officials say 28 more will arrive tomorrow.

"I've been so impressed with the commitment of the firefighters - the local firefighters and the mainland firefighters - I think they understand the importance of the resource and I'm just impressed by the skill, dedication, hard work and the safety consciousness," said Loh, who is a red card firefighter and fire ecologist who was battling flames on the front line.

"They take care of each other on the line and it's just very heartening to watch that and very inspiring," Loh said.

The fire is approximately a mile north of Highway 11, where plumes of smoke can be seen from the roadway.

Officials are asking folks to drive with caution and to keep their windows rolled up if possible. The closest residential community is the Volcano Golf Course, but officials say no homes are in imminent danger.

"Our priority now is the safety of our firefighters and the public," Desimone previously said. "The severity of the fuel conditions, the fire behavior and extremely limited personnel and resources make this a complex fire situation. We will continue to focus on collaborating with other government and private agencies."

This is just one fire in a recent spate of wildfires plaguing the state.

No homes or structures are threatened, instead natural resources are at risk as slopes on both sides of Mauna Loa have already been blackened.

The flames are believed to have begun during repairs to a bulldozer, according to National Park Service officials.

No injuries have been reported.

This story will be updated.

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