HILO — In Pahala, the cleanup continued Thursday as firefighters continued to make progress in their efforts to quell a 5,200-acre fire that damaged coffee farms and macadamia nut orchards in Pahala.
“I’ve got the windows open,” said Michael Worthington, Pahala Plantation Cottages partner, early Thursday evening. He said he was cleaning up the “soot from the leaves and the branches that have been burned.”
Windows had generally been closed in the former sugar mill town in Ka‘u because of smoke and ashes from the blaze, but Wednesday’s rain allowed people to breathe cleaner air.
According to the National Weather Service, a little more than a third of an inch of rain fell on Pahala between 8 a.m. Wednesday and 8 a.m. Thursday, while the Pahala Mauka rain gauge above the town measured just over eight-tenths of an inch during the same period.
“We had a nice rain (on Wednesday) which we desperately needed, so it was fantastic,” Worthington said. “It’s threatening to drizzle again right now, but nothing. It’s been kind of overcast all day.”
The makai fire, the larger of two blazes that broke out on Monday near the town, was “about 60 percent contained,” Assistant Fire Chief Aaron Arbles said Thursday afternoon.
“There’s a few flare-ups on the south end of the fire and also on the north end by the home (of Ann Fontes on Highway 11). But we have crews on the scene, there’s fire breaks at that location and we’re wetting down the area. … I was hoping for more rain but it died out quickly down on that side,” Arbles said.
The makai blaze jumped Highway 11 at the north end of the fire on Tuesday, coming close to the home and coffee farm of Jimmy and Lisa Dacalio.
“There’s a ravine there, and it’s rugged terrain, so we had the National Parks crews assist in that spot along with our guys,” Arbles said.
The blog Ka‘u Calendar News Briefs reported Wednesday that major landowner and Ka‘u Coffee Mill founder Edmund C. Olson “promised to help coffee farmers with funding to prune, replant and rebuild damaged coffee farms.”
Despite the agricultural damage, firefighters have prevented the blaze from destroying homes or other structures.
The fire caused the closure of Ka‘u Hospital on Monday and the evacuation of the hospital’s 15 longterm-care facility residents to the Naalehu Community Center. The hospital has since been reopened and the residents returned to the facility.
A total of 12 units, including two volunteer companies from Pahala Fire Station, a Hawaii Volcanoes National Park crew and bulldozer, and a county helicopter fought the fire, Arbles said.
“We’re having difficulty because of the terrain,” he noted. “They’ve cut a wide break, but … there are a lot of logs and trees down there and they burn for days. It takes a while getting down there and the vehicles we use, they don’t have so much water. The travel to and from the location takes awhile and they can only do so much. But anywhere there are tree canopies, it hampers the chopper’s operations.”
Equipment during the four-day battle has been provided by the Pahala, Ocean View, Volcano, Pahoa and Keaau stations, plus the National Park Service, Arbles said.
The smaller mauka fire, which has scorched about 400 acres, remains “95 percent contained,” Arbles said.
The weather service has predicted a 20 percent chance of rain today in Pahala, most likely in the afternoon.