Large wildfire burns amid drought on Hawaii’s Big Island

HONOLULU (AP) — A large wildfire in a rural area of ​​Hawaii’s Big Island is not threatening any homes, but high winds and extremely dry conditions are preventing crews from containing the blaze.

The fire started in the western part of the US Army’s Pohakuloa training area, located above the town of Waikoloa and between the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes.

The blaze had burned more than 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) by Thursday.

Huge wildfires like the one in Hawaii highlight the dangers of climate change-related heat and drought for many communities in the western United States and other hotspots around the world. But experts say relatively small fires on generally wet tropical islands in the Pacific are also on the rise, creating a cycle of ecological damage that affects vital and limited resources for millions of people.

State land officials said the fire actually started several weeks ago and was smoldering until high winds fanned the flames this week.

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

“This fire is very large and it takes this entire team of first responders to collectively contain its advances,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Cronin, commanding officer of the U.S. Army Garrison Training Area in Pohakuloa, New York. a statement.

Strong winds were recorded in the area, some exceeding 30 mph (48 km/h).

“Weather conditions are making this fight difficult to slow the fire’s progress, and our combined efforts are working to prevent it from reaching or crossing Highway 190,” Cronin said.

The fire is now burning on state land and is about a mile off Highway 190, Big Island County officials say.

The village of Waikoloa, a town of about 7,000 just across Highway 190, was evacuated last year when the state’s largest fire burned more than 181 square miles.

Linda Hunt, who works at a stable in the village of Waikoloa, said she could see the flames from her farm, but winds were currently blowing the fire away from her community.

“We’re about 10, 15 miles down the hill,” she said. “The way the wind is blowing, it’s going to keep blowing towards Kona. Unless we got a wind change, that’s the only way we would be affected.

Federal, state and local firefighters are trying to contain the blaze. Crews use bulldozers to create a firebreak, and several helicopters from various agencies drop water on the fire.

The Hawaii Department of Lands and Natural Resources released video of the fire on Thursday.

An army spokesman told The Associated Press that while there is active military training in the area, the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

“There are units up there training, I can’t confirm or deny if live fire took place,” said Michael O. Donnelly, chief of external communications for the U.S. Army Garrison at 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 area through Thursday evening.

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