Brush fire covers 500 acres near Waikii Ranch

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WAIKII RANCH — It only took a few hours for a small blaze near Waikii Ranch to break out of the confines built by firefighters and cover about 500 acres.

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WAIKII RANCH — It only took a few hours for a small blaze near Waikii Ranch to break out of the confines built by firefighters and cover about 500 acres.

The fire started at noon near the buffer space between the ranch and the Pohakuloa Training Area.

Firefighters managed to keep it away from the homes in large part because a crew at the Waikii Ranch keeps the buffer zone largely clear of material, said Captain Steve Colona of the Pohakuloa Training Area’s Fire and Emergency Services.

The buffer area is cut down and lacks the fountain grass that fuels many brush fires.

Early in the struggle, Colona’s crew, along with firefighters from the ranch, the Parker Ranch crew and Hawaii Fire Department, had stopped the rear of the fire and were working to close the edges. It was largely contained, Colona said, as they worked around the edge of the fire.

Then things changed.

“Well, the wind didn’t cooperate,” said Hawaii Fire Department Battalion Chief Ty Medeiros.

It moved to the south and expanded the blaze, he said, which broke the fire’s containment although the area threatened has no structures in it.

The 20-mph winds not only directed the fire, they complicated the efforts of the two helicopters dropping water. One came from the county, and the other from the medevac unit stationed at the base.

It provided resident Harry Morley with a bit of a show from his back balcony.

“I’ve got a few people up here,” he said.

Two of his neighbors had come over to check on him and stayed, watching the firefighters work.

They timed both helicopters as they shuttled back and forth, commented on the comparative skills of the pilots and estimated where the blaze would go. The rolling terrain of the region hid much of the fire from the balcony, leaving the trio to speculate on exactly how it was progressing.

The firefighters had caught the flanks and rear of the fire by 3 p.m. as it went through the woods.

This is the third fire Morley has seen since he moved into the home six months ago, and it was by far the closest, he said.

The other two were along Mamalahoa Highway during the blitz of fires believed to be started by an arsonist. The first of those fires was on Jan. 20, along Ane Kehokalole Highway, about a half-mile north of Kaiminiani Drive. The remainder were all near major roadways, which police began patrolling in force.

Police set a number of officers onto fire detail, patrolling the road, and a $5,000 cash reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible was offered by the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation.

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The cause is under investigation.

Officials urge the public to report any suspicious activity area to Hawaii Island police by calling 935-3311.

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