Wrapping up the Flames

Community comes together to fight fire.

By Dan Murphy

Thanks to the hard work of hundreds of community members and professionals from county, state and federal agencies, Molokai pulled through what could have been a disastrous fire.

The brushfire, first reported Saturday, Aug. 29, was called officially contained last Thursday evening. The Makakupa‘ia Section of the forest is the only part of the island that remains closed and the majority of the agencies that came to Molokai to help fight the fire left Sunday morning, according to Maui Civil Defense Administrator Gen Iinuma.

“From our standpoint, we just want to say mahalo to everyone that supported the effort – community folks that came by all week with home cooked meals and thank you notes and the donations from various businesses and people around town,” Iinuma said. “It just shows how all the residents were very appreciative of the people there.”

Iinuma said the list of supporters on Molokai stretches on and on. He added that the fire department was currently compiling a list of all the folks that helped, but did not want to leave anyone out. The citizens of Molokai made their own mahalo list this weekend, displayed in Kaunakakai. The massive poster, stretched across an empty store fronts on Ala Malama Ave., thanked the long list of businesses and agencies that provided equipment and manpower to help fight against the flames.

The National Park Service, Dept. of Public Works, Dept. of Forestry and Wildlife and the National Guard were only a few of the organizations that rushed to the island to help Molokai’s local firefighters. Maui Battalion Chief James Kino, one of three incident commanders during the fire, said that all of the groups recognized the help of the community.

“The majority of the fighters here are from Molokai and it’s their family, their friends, people they grew up with that are helping out. It’s their uncles and their aunties – it’s just one big family and they are taking care of another, just one big ohana,” he said.

Kino said he was also impressed with the success the firefighters had in preventing almost all damage. He arrived on the island from Maui early Monday morning and got a birds-eye view of the men at work.

“First thing Monday morning we flew in and three companies were already engaged in active fire,” he said. “It’s a very impressive sight to fly into the island and see the burns around all the different subdivisions down the line and how the guys made a stand around each subdivision.”

Despite ripping across 8,000 acres of land and coming within feet of many homes, only one garage was lost in the fire and no serious injuries were reported. Kino attributed a lot of that success to the fact that Molokai firefighters have had specific training in controlling wild fires in the past few years and have clearly taken it to heart. With only three active trucks and one tanker, the fire crews were able to fend off a fire that was burning in up to 17 different locations at one time. Those vehicles were joined by contributions from Pacific Helicopters, Windward Aviation, Goodfellow’s, the State Highway Division and many other businesses.

Community Sacrifice
Community members who helped stop the blaze sacrificed time, sleep and sometimes much more. Brenda Kaneshiro and her family of Molokai Mele lost 33 beehives – roughly half of their honey production hives. The Kaneshiros first learned that their hives were in jeopardy early Sunday morning and raced towards Kapa`akea to see if they could be saved. With the flames quickly approaching, they decided to close the bees inside the hives rather than remove the few that they could. That way the firefighters would not have to worry about being stung in their effort to fight the flames. Then they drove to a nearby street and helped neighbors fend off the fire while all 33 of the hives went up in smoke.

“The hardest part was watching the hives burn from a distance,” Kaneshiro said. “We are very thankful, though, that our bees did not in any way interfere with the people who were trying to save the homes in the area.”

Sorting Through the Ashes

Iinuma said now that the fire appears to be under control, the Molokai Police and Fire Departments are starting a more in depth investigation as to the cause of the fire. He said that he has heard rumors of how it was started but as of Monday, none have been substantiated.

“The fire is still under investigation. The focus has been on putting it under control,” he said. “Now, may be a time where we can move into the other facets of looking into the whole event.”

Iinuma also stressed the importance of always being prepared for such emergencies.

“These kinds of things get started very quickly, a lot of lives and properties were at risked because of the fire,” Iinuma said. “The message should be to really be mindful. What folks need to do is be responsible because what they are doing is also protecting the rest of the community.”

He asked residents to clear piles and areas of potential fuel from their yards during the dry season, which is just beginning. He said that if everyone can pitch in keep things clean Molokai will be able to avoid these types of threats in the future.

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