By LISSA FOX
Even the largest wildfires start small. The 1988 Yellowstone fire started with a single lightning strike. The 2002 fires in Colorado and Utah started from burning love letters.
The blaze now burning on Maui and the fire on the Kohala Coast of Hawaii island both started with a single spark in the early 1980s.
What fire, you ask? Fireweed is burning across the hills of Upcountry Maui, and pastures are ablaze with little yellow flames. Fireweed, or Senecio madagascarensis, is a small shrubby plant from South Africa with a reputation for spreading like wildfire.
On Maui, the yellow daisylike flowers carpet the pastures around Makawao and Kula, creeping south into Ulupalakua and Kanaio. A survey of alien-plant populations along Maui roadsides done in 2000 and repeated in 2009 shows an explosion of fireweed. Forest and Kim Starr, who conducted the surveys, say fireweed has spread faster than any other alien-plant species they monitored and now covers tens of thousands of Maui acres.