Coordination Key to Success at Refuge in Hawaii

January 2009

In early December, employees at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge in Hawaii noticed smoke rising from the nearby eastern slope of Mauna Kea. The area is covered in gorse, a shrubby, non-native plant, which was scorched and dried out during a fire that occurred three weeks earlier, making it more susceptible to re-burning. Strong winds were now bringing the fire back to life, quickly creating flames that grew to lengths of 60 feet high.

A fast response from cooperating fire agencies helped contain the fire in 2 days and keep it from burning onto the refuge. A helicopter from Hawaii County Fire Department dropped water on the flames. State firefighters and heavy equipment from other cooperators built fireline. The refuge provided 10,000 gallons of water and logistical support.

Firefighters ultimately stopped the 400-acre fire at a road only 200 meters from the refuge boundary, saving refuge facilities that include residences, maintenance facilities, and a greenhouse. They also protected a 100 year-old cabin -- a candidate for historic registry -- and a native forest the refuge that converted from grass uplands.

Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge is a member of the Big Island Wildfire Coordinating Group. Partnering with Hawaii County, Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife, National Park Service, the U.S. Army and other cooperators over the years has helped to foster personal relationships and been a benefit to the Service. 

The southwest corner of the fire reveals the density of the gorse and the resulting mosaic pattern created by the fire.


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