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County mopping up remains of Kealakekua fire

MEDIA RELEASE

Firefighters are mopping up the Kealakekua fire as hazards and risks have been greatly reduced, Chief Darryl Oliveira reported today. Demobilization of Hawai‘i County firefighting crews on the scene is under way.

Secure fire breaks have been established and only a few smoldering hot spots remain. The hot spots are more than a quarter-mile inside the fire breaks and do not pose a threat at this time.

“Conditions at the Kealakekua fire have remained stable and unchanged for the past week,” said Chief Oliveira.

Three brush fires were ignited at approximately the 4,000-foot level above Mauka Kona in late December and County firefighters have been on the scene since December 27. Difficult terrain and remote locations have hampered efforts to put the fires out.

The fire at Yee Hop Ranch has been extinguished. A few remaining hot spots at the Hōkūkano Ranch fire are being monitored by property owners.

Firefighters from the U.S. Army’s Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife were released from duty on January 12 and 13 as the fires were brought under control. Chief Oliveira thanked each of agencies for their assistance. Outside government agencies provide firefighting services under a mutual aid agreement with the County.

County firefighters remain on the scene at Kealakekua Ranch while coordinating with the land owner to continue monitoring hot spots, Chief Oliveira said. Large logs could burn like “charcoal briquettes” for days before going cold, he said.

El Nino weather conditions across the island that cause a shift in the prevailing trade winds and drought have contributed to the fires and to increased levels of smoke drifting down slope into populated areas. Kona residents have reported far less discomfort recently as the amount of smoke being produced by the fires has significantly diminished.

Mayor Billy Kenoi praised the effort of firefighters. “Everyone involved in this multi-agency effort went well beyond the call of duty to fight this fire,” he said. “I really appreciate the hard work of crews from Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, Pohakuloa Training Area and state Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and the land owners, who responded quickly and effectively to address the needs of our residents.

“This was a difficult undertaking. It’s not easy and it’s risky fighting a fire in remote, difficult-to-reach areas without much water. But the fire created difficult conditions for our residents in West Hawai‘i, too. We’re very sensitive to their needs, especially on quality of life issues. I’m proud of how our County firefighting crews responded to these fires with the welcome assistance of so many agencies from every level of government.

“Chief Oliveira and his entire department should be commended for their expertise and skills in quickly assessing the fire conditions and calling in all the right resources just when we needed them.”

Daily fire briefings on local radio stations will be discontinued unless a change in conditions occurs.

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