Firefighters union: Prescribed burn could have contributed to huge Hawaii Island wildfire

Fire crews say the blaze is just 30% contained and being fueled by strong wind gusts.
Published: Aug. 12, 2022 at 4:54 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 12, 2022 at 5:49 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - 16,400 acres.

That’s the latest estimate on the Hawaii Island “Leilani” wildfire burning on the northwest slope of Mauna Kea.

As flames move into a native forest area, federal firefighters say a prescribed burn weeks ago could have contributed to making the fire worse.

Fire crews say the blaze is just 30% contained and being fueled by strong wind gusts.

“They are still working in hot, windy conditions and they are really at the mercy of natural weather conditions, but they are making good progress,” said Dan Dennison, DLNR spokesperson.

Multiple agencies are working together to build firelines with heavy equipment while the Army has five helicopters up for water drops to douse the hotspots.

Crews continue to battle wildfire that scorched 16,400 acres on Hawaii Island

“As of today (Friday), it has moved into some dryland forest, native ohia trees that are being impacted, but they are really working hard to keep it out of those sensitive areas,” said Dennison.

The state says the fire started weeks ago in the Pohakuloa Training Area and then spread to state property.

“It just basically was low lying and just waiting for this type of perfect weather. As soon as the weather kicked up a few days ago, it just kind of reignited it,” said Kaanapu Jacobsen, Federal Fire Fighters of Hawaii union president.

Jacobsen says on July 21, they were ordered to use a back burn against the smaller wildfire that was 500 acres.

But instead of controlling the blaze, it made it worse.

“After they put the drip torches down to the ground, it got up close to I’d say over 2,000 acres that day, and probably spread to another five to another 1,000 acres as the fire burns out,” he said.

Kaanapu added: “That day due to the lack of supervision ... (and) just the selfishness of the supervisor that day decided to basically back burn in the whole area and totally stepping outside of the plan.”

He said the decision goes against best practices.

U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii says it’s aware of the union’s concerns. An after-action report will be completed, but the focus now is on containing the fire.

The fire isn’t threatening homes, but Hawaii island residents watch with concern.

“It goes from Mauna Loa all the way towards Mauna Kea. I don’t know how you guys going to put this out, but do something,” said Leomana Turalde, on his Instagram page.

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