ML Macadamia Orchards is continuing to tally the losses from fires that started in its Pahala groves last month, but preliminary figures are in the six-figure range for this year’s harvest.
Randy Cabral, senior vice president for the macadamia nut producer, said Wednesday there has been confusion on how many fires sprang up in the Pahala area on June 18.
“There were actually three fires,” he said. “One up where the coffee farm was; one just below the hospital, and one further down.”
Cabral said that two orchards, one of about 30 acres and another of about 150 acres, were damaged by the fires.
The 30-acre grove had trees currently producing, he said, while the larger orchard had been unproductive since a November 2000 flood, but the company had planned to harvest from again this fall.
“For that 150-acre orchard, we probably won’t recover from that,” he said. “I don’t think those trees will come back, so that would be considered a total loss at that point. The 30 producing acres, that depends upon when it comes back into production or if it comes back into production. But we’re probably talking about 140,000 pounds out of those 30 acres, for this season, that are lost.”
Cabral said that macadamia nuts currently sell for about 80 cents per pound, which would put the estimated harvest loss at approximately $112,000.
The orchards’ irrigation system also sustained fire damage, but Cabral said it’s now “up and running.”
“And again, we’re still compiling the costs,” he said.
The largest, 4,800-acre “makai fire,” which started in an ML orchard, came within a couple hundred yards of two homes on Highway 11 just north of Pahala.
It’s one of six recent fires in Ka‘u that officials have described as suspicious and that police are investigating.
Police Capt. Andrew Burian, commander of Ka‘u Patrol, said Tuesday that one possibility is that at least one of the fires was started accidentally by heavy equipment in the ML orchards.
“We talked to ML mac nut employees and there was some bulldozing going on that day when the fire started, and there was indeed a fire in the area where the bulldozers were working. I don’t want to say definitively that was the cause of the fire, but I suspect there’s a good chance that it was,” he said.
Burian emphasized that the investigation is still open and there is no official conclusion that the fire was started by the equipment.
Asked about a possible connection between the bulldozing and the fires, Cabral replied: “Not that I know of.”
“We haven’t determined that at all. The last time I talked to the Fire Department, which was about two weeks ago, they said it was undetermined as far as what the cause of the fire was.”
Fire Inspector Gantry Andrade acknowledged Thursday that ignition by heavy equipment is one scenario being looked at, but said for now, it’s “an assumption and only an assumption.”
“Unless (the operator) admitted it or we had evidence to prove that it was started by the heavy equipment, we could go that route, but right now, it’s undetermined,” he said.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.