Maui Wildfire Scorches 500 Acres, Continues To Burn

Mary Gilchrist
Mary Gilchrist

MAUI (KHNL) - Unpredictable winds and fast-burning trees are giving firefighters a difficult time with a forest fire on Maui. It's been burning for three days now, and is covering parts of the island with smoke and soot.

The fire is only 60 percent contained and strong trade winds hamper firefighting efforts.  Through last night, it burned 250 acres, but today that number doubled.

Plumes of smoke bellow from the Polipoli Forest Reserve.  500 acres have burned since Wednesday.  Although no homes are threatened at this point, Mary Gilchrist can see the fire from her backyard.

"Last night, I looked up and thought, 'Gee, maybe I should be packing,'" said the Kaokea, Maui, resident.

Thick haze blankets Maui.  Officials hope to get a handle on this fire soon.

Firefighters from the ground and air battle this fire.  More than 40 from multiple agencies are on scene.  Gilchrist has seen the fire get stronger since Wednesday.

"Originally it just started there, and in the morning the smoke would be across the sun," she said.  "But gradually it's moved from way over there to there in three days."

The fire has been difficult to contain because heavy pine burns quickly and unpredictable winds fan the flames in different directions.  And there are other challenges.

"Well, one is access.  A lot of times you can't get to the fire," said Gary Ambrose, a Maui County employee.  "And water where places like this, water is kind of scarce."

Scarce resources and rural terrain: reasons the fire is only 60 percent contained.  Gilchrist has lived on Maui for 35 years, but hasn't experienced a major fire like this since she moved from the mainland.

"I've never been this close," said Gilchrist.  "I can see the Poli fires sometimes, but when I lived in California, I lived in the Sierras, and saw quite a few fires up there and it reminds me of that."

Officials say the fire will not be contained until at least next week.  In the meantime, firefighters continue working around the clock.

The Haleakala Visitor Center, which had been closed because of the fire, reopened Friday.