The Hawaii Fire Department (HFD) continues to battle a major brush fire that broke out near Ka'ohe Homesteads and scorched over 1,200+ acres in Pa'auilo, Hāmākua Friday afternoon (June 4th).
Published by: HIRSC - Hawaii Island (Hilo and Hōlualoa) and Utah (Salt Lake City and Provo) Teams
The Hawaii Fire Department (HFD) along with the Hawaii Police Department (HPD), Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT), and Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) Fire Crews remain at the scene of a major brush fire that broke out near Ka'ohe Homesteads in Pa'auilo, Hāmākua Friday afternoon (June 4th).
The initial call came in at 12:06 pm Friday afternoon and HFD Crews from the Honoka'a, Laupāhoehoe, Waimea, South Kohala (Tanker 14), and Central (Tanker 1) Fire Stations along with Battalion 1, Chopper 1, Chopper 3 (Volcano Helicopters), Volunteers from the Pa'auilo, Anekona, and Kalaoa Mauka Stations, DOFAW Fire Crews, and HPD Officers from the Hāmākua Patrol responded to the scene located on Highway 19 (Māmalahoa Highway) near the 35-mile marker (or near Ka'ohe Homesteads) in Pa'auilo.
Preliminary details received that initially reported as a small brush fire approximately 10'x10' area was reported along the makai (ocean) side of Highway 19, however, due to the windy conditions in the area at the time of the first report, the brush fire then jumped across Highway 19 and then progressing up along the mauka (mountain) side, just west of Ka'ohe Homesteads. Due to the breezy winds and also dry conditions, the fire had rapidly spread up further into the heavy eucalyptus forest, also burned multiple harvested eucalyptus log piles in the area, and jumped East Pa'auilo Branch Gulch, which continued progressing southwest above Pa'auilo town heading towards Pa'auilo Mauka, burning more than 10 acres within a matter of an hour after the first report and growing to over 345+ acres by 3:45 pm Friday afternoon (according to NASA Fire Maps).
HFD crews worked to protect residences and other structures within the Ka'ohe Homesteads and Pa'auilo Town area while continuing to battle multiple fronts moving in all directions.
Because of the brush fire hazard, HPD Officers and HDOT crews had closed Highway 19 in both directions while HFD Crews worked to extinguish the fire along the highway fronts and also around the Ka'ohe Homesteads. Traffic during that time was so congested that traffic had backed up over 2 miles in both directions, while some had turned around and went around using Saddle Road (or Highway 200 or Daniel K. Inouye Highway), most remained in place until one lane was opened to alternating traffic just before 5:00 pm Friday evening and was later reopened all lanes just before 8:00 pm Friday evening.
Due to limited access and terrain with numerous gulches in the area, HFD crews had to utilize existing paved and also 4x4 roads to reach the fronts of the fire until several privately contracted bulldozers (D9) arrived at the scene and began cutting firebreaks, however, during that process, windy conditions with hot embers and radiating heat cause the fire jump the firebreaks and forcing bulldozers to backtrack and create new breaks to prevent the further spread. Chopper 1 and Chopper 3 conducted water bucket drops in critical areas near residences and any other fires that were sparked by flying embers. Numerous residents including farmers launched their own bulldozers had helped create breaks around their residences and farms.
As the fire progressed, numerous residents in the Ka'ohe Homesteads, Pa'auilo Town, and Pa'auilo Mauka had evacuated the area as a precaution as the fire continued to rage on, however, a handful of residents had stayed to protect their own residences at their own discretion and safety. Some residents from Umikoa Village, miles above the nearest front had also evacuated as a precaution in the event of road access cut off due to the brush fire if it had continued East and Southeast. Pa'auilo Gym Annex was opened as an emergency shelter and St. Columba clergy had offered limited shelter assistance to those affected who had contacted them.
Hawaii County Civil Defense (HCCD) activated their emergency operations center in Hilo to monitor and coordinate any resources and HFD crews also mobilized their mobile command post to the scene to help with support services and interoperability with HPD and other agencies at the scene.
Smoke from the Pa'auilo Brush Fire was moving with the winds to the west towards Waimea to South Kohala Coast and to a further extent the North Kona Coast and Saddle Region, which caused very bad visibility and air quality as well. Winds along the West Hawaii region caused the smoky conditions to persist going into the evening hours. Should the fire continue, the smoky conditions are expected to linger through Saturday as the winds will continue to push smoke to the west.
As nightfall approached on Friday evening, Chopper 1 and Chopper 3 ended operations for the day and gave a size estimate of the brush fire of approximately 1,200+ acres and over 30+ plus personnel from multiple agencies were actively assisting or part of incident operations.
As the fire continued to progress into the evening, HFD Crews moved to Pohakea and Pa'auilo Mauka Roads to prevent further spread to the northwest towards Pa'auilo Mauka Homestead and also to the makai towards Pa'auilo Town near the Pa'auilo Post Office, and Pa'auilo Elementary and Intermediate School. Where at this time, HFD and DOFAW personnel remain in the area.
The fire is currently not under control or contained at this time, however, HFD crews actively monitoring all areas to ensure no further spread is made.
This is an ongoing incident and will continue to provide updates on this incident as it becomes available.