12 p.m.: Firefighters gain ‘upper hand’ on Ukumehame brushfire

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Maui firefighters have gained the “upper hand” on a brushfire near Ukumehame and do not expect Honoapiilani Highway to be closed from the blaze, Fire Services Chief Edward Taomoto said Wednesday.

No homes are threatened and no injuries have been reported.

The approximately 15-acre fire was reported at 7:56 a.m. and fire crews arrived at 8:12 a.m., Taomoto said. Fire crews gained the upper hand around 10:30 a.m., but have not contained or controlled the fire.

Fire crews had access issues with no roads leading to the fire, Taomoto said. He said a Lahaina tanker, which is an all-terrain vehicle, and two helicopters were the only units fighting the blaze.

“The helicopters were instrumental,” he said. “Without the helicopters, we would’ve had to wait until the thing got closer to the highway, which would’ve been a disaster.”

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Portable water dip tanks, or pumpkins, were being set up for the helicopters on the mauka side of the highway, but were scrapped due to strong winds of up to 25 to 30 miles per hour, Taomoto said. The helicopters resorted to gathering water from the ocean right beside the highway and salt water could be felt as they flew over the highway.

The fire likely would have closed the highway if not for the helicopter crews, Taomoto said. He said heavy brush and vegetation near the highway along with intense heat and heavy smoke would have affected visibility and safety for motorists.

“The day before Thanksgiving – that would not have been good,” he said.

Maui County officials advised motorists earlier Wednesday that the blaze could force the highway to close near Ehehene Street. The fire was advancing quickly due to the strong gusty winds between mile post 13 and 14.

At least three dozers from Goodfellow Bros. and West Maui Land Co. assisted firefighters. Fire engines from Kihei, Napili and Lahaina, as well as tankers from Wailea and Kahului, and a Kahului hazmat crew responded to the fire.

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Fire inspectors plan to investigate the cause of the blaze later today when it is safe to walk through the fire area.

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