Firefighters continue battling large Hawaii wildfire

Firefighters continue battling large Hawaii wildfire

Dozens of firefighters are battling a large wildfire Friday in a rural area of Hawaii’s Big Island that wasn’t threatening any homes.

Gusts and arid conditions were making it challenging to contain the blaze that started in the western reaches of the U.S. Army’s Pohakuloa Training Area, which is above the town of Waikoloa and in between the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes.

The fire had burned more than 39 square miles (101 square kilometers) as of Friday, officials estimated.

Crews were using seven bulldozers to build fire lines around the blaze and five military helicopters were dropping thousands of gallons of water on the hottest part of the fire Friday, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Flames had moved largely onto the military training area land in a region bounded by Saddle Road, Highway 190 and an 1859 lava flow.

Fire managers are hoping that lava flow will act as a natural fire line if it reaches that point, the department said.

Large wildfires highlight the dangers of climate change-related heat and drought for many communities throughout the U.S. West and other hotspots around the world. But experts say relatively small fires on typically wet, tropical islands in the Pacific are also on the rise, creating a cycle of ecological damage that affects vital and limited resources for millions of residents.

State land officials said the fire actually began several weeks ago and smoldered until strong winds this week reinvigorated the flames. Strong winds have been recorded across the area, some in excess of 30 mph (48 kph).

Winds had eased some, but gusts were expected upwards of 25 mph (40 kph) later Friday, said Steve Bergfield, Hawaii Island branch chief for the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

The area is dominated by shrubs and grasslands that have been dried by persistent drought.

The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources released video of the blaze Thursday.

A spokesperson for the Army told The Associated Press that while there is active military training in the area, the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

“There are units up there training, I can’t confirm or deny if live fire was taking place,” said Michael O. Donnelly, chief of external communications for the U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii. “It’s business as usual, but the exact cause we don’t know.”

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AP journalist Jennifer Sinco Kelleher contributed to this report.

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