Sunday, October 17

‘A Perfect Storm’: Hawaii Firefighters Face Biggest Wildfire in Big Island History | Hawaii


FFighters from Hawaii’s Big Island in recent days battled the largest bushfire to ever burn on the island., dispute a fire that has burned more than 62 square miles (160 square kilometers) and destroyed two houses.

The dangers posed by the fire lessened on Tuesday, allowing evacuation orders that had forced thousands of people to flee their homes to be lifted.

Mike Walker, the state fire protection forester for the department of lands and natural resources, said the total area burned could end up being the largest the state has ever seen.

“It’s quite significant,” he said, adding that sustained 30 mph winds with gusts of up to 50 mph carried the fire at about 100 acres per hour on Saturday and Sunday. Airborne crews observed walls of flames that shot up and spiraled 200 feet into the air above the blaze, which was fueled by the dry landscape. “It was a perfect storm of dry conditions,” Walker said.

Parker Ranch Inc, one of the largest and oldest cattle ranches in the US, reported on its Facebook page that most of the burns had occurred on its pastures. The cowboys were able to save up to 3,000 animals from the burning slopes, but About 100 head of cattle perished in the fire.

“Unfortunately, sustained winds over 40 mph for 3 days were powerful enough to jump over firebreaks cut by up to 15 bulldozers working day and night,” the ranch said. wrote. “It appears that some animals were lost in this fire because the torrent of winds pushed the fire faster than resources could move to deal with it.”

Although Hawaii has a humid tropical climate that is not typically at risk from major fires, fires could become more frequent as weather patterns related to climate change worsen. The climate crisis has increased the risks of large and dangerous conflagrations on the islands, just as it has in the western contiguous United States. Nearly 100 large fires were burning in 12 US states as of Tuesday morning, having consumed more than 2,919 square miles.

Mitch Roth, the mayor of the Big Island of Hawaii, told local news reporters Monday that his crews had known all along that it was going to be a difficult fire season.

“It’s the biggest we’ve had on this island,” Roth said of the fire. “With the drought conditions that we have had, it is cause for concern. You see something like this where you are putting thousands of homes in danger, it is very worrying. “

Drought conditions have already reached the most severe category in some parts of Hawaii in recent years, according to the US Drought Monitor, which has made wildfires even more difficult to fight.

Along with the drier summers, Hawaii has also had wetter winters, which has stimulated the growth of grasses and shrubs that quickly brown and become the perfect firewood to fuel the flames. Researchers have found that the area is burned annually in Hawaii. has quadrupled in recent decades.

Although residents were allowed to return to their homes on Monday, toxic smoke from the fire remained a problem earlier in the week. The fire chief advised people living in nearby communities, which could be inundated with smoke, and anyone with health or respiratory problems to find another place to stay.

With streak winds still in the forecast this week, residents have been told to be vigilant.

According to the National Weather Service, strong winds and generally dry conditions will continue across the islands on Tuesday, easing only slightly on Wednesday.

“Our current wind forecast shows wind patterns between 18 and 20 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph,” Hawaii County Fire Marshal Kazuo Todd said Sunday night. “This temporary lifting of mandatory evacuation may have to be reinforced later due to prevailing weather patterns.” The wind, swirling and changing direction erratically, has already exacerbated risks and complicated containment efforts.

Traffic stopped for miles on Waikoloa Road and Queen Kaahumanu Highway after evacuation orders.
Traffic stopped for miles on Waikoloa Road and Queen Kaahumanu Highway after evacuation orders. Photograph: Chelsea Jensen / AP

“In the future, we will have a better plan,” Roth added, noting that this was the first time the Waikoloa Big Island area had been evacuated. The choke points reduced traffic as residents tried to escape. “It’s basically a dead end,” Roth said. “It took me a couple of hours to clean up that community.”

More developments are taking place in the area, adding more urgency to develop new strategies to keep people safe from the fast-moving flames.

Residents recounted the terrible struggle to leave, as the flames drew closer. “I just saw the flames coming,” said Kanani Malakaua, a Waimea resident. Hawaii News Now (HNN). “Mainly I got my important papers, I made sure my kids were in the car, I got my animals, but this is a very, very scary time for us.”

Others tried to fight the fire. “I had a bulldozer on my lawn, my land, and I tried to make a firewall,” said Joshua Kihe of Waimea. HNN. Despite his efforts, the fire consumed the house.that they have had for generations. “I definitely need to come up with a plan,” he said, “because it’s life changing.”

His family started a GoFundMe, which has already received more than $ 30,000.

“Joshua and his brother Waylon did everything they could to save their home,” Pi’ikea Kihe wrote on the page on behalf of her son, who had lived in the house.

“Despite his best efforts, his house was demolished right in front of his eyes. We are blessed and grateful that everyone is safe, but we are left to pick up the pieces and rebuild our lives. “


www.theguardian.com

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