National Park Service firefighters have spent the week trying to prevent the wild fire ignited by Kilauea Volcano from spreading through a protected rain forest that is inhabited by endangered Hawaiian plants and animals.
Nearly 100 acres of the 2,750-acre east rift zone’s special ecological area, an intact lowland rain forest, have already destroyed in the fire ignited March 5 by an eruption at the Kamoamoa fissure.
As of today, the Napau wildfire on the east rift zone of the Big Island’s Kilauea volcano has destroyed 2,000 acres approximately seven miles southeast of the Kilauea Visitor Center.
The area is the home of the endangered Hawaiian bat, Hawaiian hawk, and other uniquely Hawaiian plants and animals such as Hawaiian thrush, lama and sandalwood trees, happy face spiders, carnivorous caterpillars, and Hawaiian honeycreepers said Gary Wuchner, National Park Service fire information spokesman.
Mardi Lane, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park spokeswoman, described the area as “pristine.”
“It best represents what Hawaii was and is a seed source for plants and refuge for birds,” Lane said.
“It is a living laboratory of Hawaiian plants and animals.”
Firefighters will be working to keep flames from spreading beyond the 100 acres of the refuge, said Rhonda Loh, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park chief of natural resources management.
“It is the focal point of our fire crews,” Loh said.
Wuchner said an infrared mapping flight “shows most of the fire are single logs,standing dead trees, stumps, and large dead areas of vegetation….”
National Park Service firefighters were aided by rain in the area Wednesday.
The Napau hiking trail, which begins at the Chain or Craters Road, winds through the refuge.
Firefighters are being hampered by strong gusty trade winds with gusts up to 40 miles per hour. Flames were visible along the south flank and Chain of Craters Road.
Helicopters have been shuttling National Park Service firefighting crews and equipment into the fire area. Forty Park Service firefighters from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Olympic and Yosemite National Parks, the Pacific West Regional Office of NPS, National NPS Fire Office in Boise and the Eldorado, Sequoia, Stanislaus and Los Padres National Forests are being used.
Wuchner said the firefighters may have to camp out near the fire line for safety reasons to reduce the number of helicopter flights.
Helicopter bucket drops are helping to cool hotspots and slow the fire’s forward progress.
The Chain of Craters Road was closed approximately 6 miles from the visitor center at Mau Loa o Mauna Ulu.