Large wildfire burning amid drought on Hawaii’s Big Island

High winds and extremely dry conditions are making it difficult for crews to contain the blaze.

A LARGE WILDFIRE is raging in a rural area of Hawaii’s Big Island.

High winds and extremely dry conditions are making it difficult for crews to contain the blaze.

The fire started in the western reaches of the US Army’s Pohakuloa Training Area, which is above the town of Waikoloa and in between the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes.

The fire had burned more than 15 square miles.

Experts say relatively small fires on typically wet, tropical islands in the Pacific are on the rise, creating a cycle of ecological damage that affects vital and limited resources for millions of residents.
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Officials said the fire began several weeks ago and smouldered until strong winds fanned the flames this week.

The area is dominated by shrubs and grasslands that have been dried by persistent drought.

“This fire is very significant and it is taking this entire team of first responders to collectively contain its advances,” said Lt Col Kevin Cronin, commander of the US Army Garrison Pohakuloa Training Area.

Strong winds have been recorded across the area, some in excess of 30 mph.

“The weather conditions are making this fight difficult to slow the advance of the fire, and our combined efforts are working to prevent it from reaching or crossing Highway 190,” Lt Col Cronin said.

The fire is now burning on state land and is about a mile away from Highway 190, according to Big Island county officials.

Waikoloa Village, a town of about 7,000 people on the other side of Highway 190, was evacuated last year when the state’s largest-ever wildfire burned more than 70 square miles.

Crews are using bulldozers to create a fire break and several helicopters from various agencies are dropping water on the fire.

A spokesperson for the Army said that while there is active military training in the area, the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

“There are units up there training, I can’t confirm or deny if live fire was taking place,” said Michael O Donnelly, head of external communications for the US Army Garrison Hawaii. “It’s business as usual, but the exact cause we don’t know.”

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for fire conditions in the region on Thursday night.

Press Association
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