Brush fire has burned about 20% of Kahoʻolawe

The island is southwest of Maui in Hawaii

Kaho‘olawe Island fire satellite photo map
Satellite photo showing the vegetation fire on Kaho‘olawe Island February 25, 2020. Sentinel 2, processed by Wildfire Today.

The fire that started over the weekend has burned about 6,400 acres on Kahoʻolawe island southwest of Maui in Hawaii. The Maui Fire Department sized up the blaze Wednesday and confirmed that due to unexploded ordnances left over from 49 years of the military using the island as a bombing range it is unsafe for firefighters on the ground or the air to attempt to suppress the fire.

Kaho‘olawe Island fire
Storage facilities for the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission burned in the fire. Photo Feb., 25, 2020 by Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission

The Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission’s main storage facilities have burned.

“Losing the KIRC storage facility, more commonly known as ‘Squid’, to the fire yesterday was a huge setback,” the Commission reported February 26 in a news release. “Squid was home to the majority of our restoration and irrigation supplies and equipment, along with five 2500 gallon water catchment tanks, a fleet of all-terrain vehicles used to transport volunteers and gear to work sites, and water craft used for ocean management projects and activities. All of these things are vital to the restoration efforts undertaken by KIRC staff and their volunteer force.”

The fire has blackened an area on the west side of the island that is about three miles by three miles, covering about 20 percent of the 10-mile long island.

Kaho‘olawe Island fire
Kaho‘olawe Island fire. Photo by Maui Fire Department.
Kaho‘olawe Island fire map 3-D
Map, 3-D, showing the location of the fire on Kaho‘olawe Island February 25, 2020. Google/Wildfire Today.

Wildfire burns thousands of acres on Hawaii island

Unexploded ordnances make it unsafe for firefighters or aircraft to battle the blaze

Kahoʻolawe brush fire satellite photo
The red dots represent heat on the Hawaiian island of Kahoʻolawe, detected February 22 by a NASA satellite. On the following day, February 23, the fire spread further to the south and east. Smoke can be seen blowing off to the south.

A brush fire on the smallest of the main volcanic islands in the Hawaiian Islands has burned approximately 4,000 acres on Kahoʻolawe southwest of Maui since it was reported Saturday. (UPDATE at 7:02 a.m. MST Feb, 25, 2020: on Monday fire officials said the fire had burned 5,400 acres.)

The island is sacred to the native population, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 the island was transformed into a bombing range. Ships fired their big guns at the island and submarines tested torpedoes by firing them at the shoreline cliffs. The weapons testing stopped in 1990 but in spite of removing more than 9 million pounds of unexploded ordnances it is still not safe for firefighters to attempt to suppress fires on the island. That includes ground-based firefighters as well as water-dropping aircraft, said fire officials on Maui.

The most notorious of the weapons tested on the island were the three “Sailor Hat” tests in which 500 tons of TNT were detonated to simulate the blast effects of nuclear weapons on shipboard weapon systems.

Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, left Richmond, Australia Monday afternoon U.S. time en route to the U.S. and within the next 24 hours will likely refuel in Hawaii. If it wasn’t for the danger of the fire burning through unexploded ordnances, it would be a rare opportunity for a Very Large Air Tanker to drop on a fire in Hawaii.