Official: Stubborn fire likely lit on purpose

Fire investigators have determined that a wildfire that consumed more than 65 acres of brush in Kaupo over the weekend – and reignited Monday, burning another 25 acres – was likely intentionally set, a fire official said.

Remains of fireworks known as “Ground Bloom Flowers” were recovered from the scene Sunday, said Fire Services Chief Lee Mainaga.

The fire was first reported shortly after 3 p.m. Saturday on the Ulupalakua side of Manawainui Gulch in Kaupo. Firefighters battled the blaze, which reached the 1,500-foot elevation, all weekend before it was reported to be fully extinguished at 6:30 a.m. Monday.

But with winds picking up, firefighters were recalled to Kaupo at about 3 p.m. Monday for a report of smoke at about the 2,000-foot elevation. Kula and Makawao firefighters responded to the scene, along with the Air One helicopter.

The chopper confirmed that the Kaupo brush fire had rekindled, Mainaga said.

Two more choppers and two fire and two Public Works tankers joined the fight.

The fire was declared 100 percent contained at about 7 p.m. but was to be monitored through the night.

Mainaga wanted to thank Sumner Erdman and Ulupalakua Ranch for allowing firefighters to use a 100,000-plus gallon water tank at Auwahi Wind. Fire tankers were able to load up and truck their water to “pumpkins,” or portable water storage devices, that choppers used to fill up their buckets.

If it wasn’t for the water, “we’d be out there for a long, long time,” said Mainaga.

Responding to the discovery of the fireworks remains, Fire Chief Jeff Murray pointed out that although no permit is needed to buy or set off legal fireworks, residents can only do so during certain periods on holidays such as Independence Day or New Year’s Eve. At other times, Maui County prohibits the use of fireworks.

Murray also noted that the time of day the fireworks were lit in Kaupo indicates that this fire may have not been accidental.

“People usually watch fireworks at night, which is odd that these fireworks were set off in the middle of the afternoon,” Murray said. “We have had a number of brush fires this summer, and this one tied up our firefighters all weekend long. This sort of reckless behavior needs to stop, otherwise someone may get hurt.”

Tankers and helicopters, as well as engine and Hazmat companies from Kula, Kahului and Makawao, were among those who fought the Kaupo fire before it was contained at 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Five members of the Fire Department wild-land team also were called in.

Another fire behind Kmart in Kahului on Saturday burned about a half-acre of dry grass and shrubbery. Investigators said that fire was suspected to have originated from a homeless encampment.