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Leilani Wildfire Grows Thousands of Acres Overnight

by Thunda
Photo Courtesy of DLNR

A fast-moving, wind whipped wildfire on Hawai‘i Island has federal, state, and county firefighters preparing for a prolonged, intense firefight. Called the Leilani fire, Wednesday night it grew from an estimated 700-acres in size to 9,800 acres this afternoon. 

Burning west of the Daniel K. Inouye Highway (Saddle Road) and south of State Highway 190, the fire actually started several weeks ago on the Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA). There was no smoke visible, as the fire apparently lay dormant until this week’s high winds whipped it into a frenzy.  

Currently, wildland firefighters from the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW), the federal PTA fire department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, the Hawai‘i Fire Dept. (HFD),  and Hawai‘i County Department of Public Works are on the lines or serving in support roles.

A total of 33 firefighters are getting support from nine private contract bulldozers, being used to build fire line around the perimeter of the fire; and two HFD helicopters. Across the day the choppers have flown multiple missions, taking 80-gallons of water at a time from portable dip tanks, and flying them to the active fire area to try and cool it down. 

By the end of today, the U.S. Army will have a total of five helicopters engaged in the battle to bring the fire under control. 

This fire comes one year after the massive Mana Road Fire, that scorched some 40,000 acres in July and August 2021. That fire and this one demonstrate the mutual aid and unified command system utilized on Hawai‘i Island. 

Steve Bergfeld, the DOFAW Hawai‘i Island Branch Manager said, “This is an all-hands effort. We’re watching the winds this afternoon, send towering columns of smoke into the air.” 

So far, the fire is burning mostly in invasive fountain grass. It is not currently endangering any private property or homes and eventually may be contained by lava flows.  

“It’s tricky,” DOFAW protection forester Don Yokoyama explained, “because right now the winds are causing it to burn in three different directions.” 

The earnest efforts of all of the agencies working this fire showed a great deal of progress this afternoon. However, with wind gusts of 25-35 mph in the most remote areas, fire managers estimated it grew by several thousand acres today. Friday morning they will get a better assessment of size and containment. A fire line, closest to Highway 190, and apx. 2.1 miles from the highway is largely complete. Numerous bulldozers cut the line, helicopters continued dropping water, and DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) wildland fire crews set backfires with drip torches. Mauka areas continue to burn tonight and that will be the focus of the firefighting effort tomorrow.

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