Sun, 03 Dec 2023

Oahu rainforest in Hawaii threatened by another wildfire

Robert Besser
17 Nov 2023, 02:45 GMT+10

HONOLULU, Hawaii: Just months after a devastating blaze on a neighboring island of Maui destroyed the entire town of Lahaina and killed at least 99 people, another wildfire is burning in a remote rainforest in Oahu.

No injuries and damaged homes were reported in the latest fire, which burned mountain ridges on Oahu, but the flames wiped out irreplaceable native forestland home to nearly two dozen vulnerable species.

The causes were similar to the fire that destroyed Maui's historic town of Lahaina, which are severe drought combined with climate change.

JC Watson, manager of the Koolau Mountains Watershed Partnership, which helps take care of the land, said, "It was really beautiful native forest. It is not a full-on clean burn, but it is pretty moonscape-looking out there."

Sam 'Ohu Gon III, senior scientist and cultural adviser at The Nature Conservancy in Hawaii, said, "The fact that this fire was on Oahu's wetter, windward side is a red flag to all of us that there is change afoot."

The fire mostly burned inside the Oahu Forest National Wildlife Refuge, which, according to the U.S. government, is home to 22 species listed as endangered or threatened.

Since first being spotted on October 30, the fire, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Honolulu, incinerated 2.5 square miles (6.5 square kilometers) and was 90 percent contained as of Friday.

Officials were investigating the fire's cause.

An Oahu forest near the latest fire had uluhe ferns, koa trees and ohia trees before a blaze burned less than a square mile of it in 2015, and now the land contains invasive grasses that are more fire-prone and some slow-growing koa, Watson said.

Hawaii fires are almost always started by people, so more needs to be done to raise awareness about prevention, Gon stressed.

Hawaii state officials are seeking additional funding from the Legislature next year for updated firefighting equipment, firebreaks, new water sources for fire suppression, replanting native trees and plants, and seed storage.

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