By CLAUDINE SAN NICOLAS, Staff Writer
MAALAEA ““ A wildfire ignited in the West Maui Mountains for the second weekend in a row, this time torching approximately 500 acres of brush just west of last week’s massive fire.
Authorities believe the fire started in the area of tower No. 9 at the Kaheawa wind farm, just above 2,500 feet elevation on Kealaloloa Ridge.
One lane of Honoapiilani Highway was shut down for a short time at about 1:30 p.m. but was quickly reopened when the smoke cleared. The fire was first reported a little after 11 a.m. Saturday.
Traffic was slowed during the day, at times when the flames came dangerously close to the road and at other times because motorists were slowing down to watch the flames up in the hills.
By 5 p.m., when the 500-acre fire was contained, traffic was flowing in and out of West Maui although there was congestion heading into Lahaina where the Taste of Lahaina and Kapalua LifeFest were major attractions.
Assistant Chief Alan Cordeiro, after conducting an aerial review of the fire shortly before 5 p.m., said he hoped the crews would have the blaze extinguished before darkness.
“Hopefully nothing flares up,” he said.
The Maui Fire Department called in off-duty firefighters to assist and had engine crews responding from West Maui, Kahului and Wailuku. Tankers from Wailea and Kahului provided support, and three helicopters from Windward Aviation were involved in providing water drops on inaccessible gulches and ravines in the fire area.
Goodfellow Brothers also sent two bulldozers to assist in cutting firebreaks on the perimeters of the fire, while nine forestry workers from the state Department of Land & Natural Resources were dropped in to help block the spread of the fire on the upper slopes.
All the firefighting crews were challenged by the wind, which was clocked at 33.5 mph around 4:45 p.m. at the Coast Guard Station in Maalaea. At Kahului Airport, gusts up to 32 mph were recorded at mid-day, with steady 20 mph trades through the afternoon.
“The winds are always a big factor,” Cordeiro said.
The normally strong winds over the Kealaloloa Ridge are the reason the site was selected for the Kaheawa Wind Power turbines.
The fire on Saturday broke out in a previously unburned area along the western edge of the 4,000 acres that had been burned by a wildfire last week. The Labor Day weekend fire closed down Honoapiilani Highway for most of Sept. 1 after it broke out near the highway at Maalaea at 12:27 a.m., stranding hundreds of visitors and residents on both sides of the road closure until 11 p.m.
Spread by gusty winds across the Kealaloloa Ridge along the Honoapiilani Highway and the slopes above Maalaea, the Labor Day weekend blaze was not contained until four days later. It was declared officially extinguished Wednesday.
The causes for Saturday’s fire as well as the blaze on the Labor Day weekend were undetermined, fire officials said.
Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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