Olowalu fire flares Saturday

Firefighters continue battle with brush fire that was considered 90% contained Friday

A helicopter pilot races back toward the ocean Saturday morning after dropping water on the flare-up of a brush fire high on a ridge above Olowalu. The blaze that started Friday morning grew to 250 to 300 acres by late afternoon Saturday, a Maui fire official said. No injuries, structure damage or evacuations were reported on the fire’s second day. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Keeping a wary eye on fickle winds, firefighters deployed three helicopters to dump loads of water on a stubborn brush fire Saturday in remote areas of Olowalu Valley.

Initially reported around 10 a.m. Friday north of Olowalu General Store, the blaze spread up the valley and forced the evacuation of businesses and residents. Later Friday, the fire had consumed an estimated 200 acres and was 90 percent contained, officials said.

But, at 8:35 a.m. Saturday, the fire broke out of the containment area at a high elevation on the north Napili side of its perimeter, said Battalion Chief Amos Lonokailua-Hewett.

Because the area was too remote for ground crews, firefighters brought in three helicopter crews to douse the fire at its edges until — by late afternoon Saturday — the fire had been reduced to hot spots in the middle of the valley, Lonokailua-Hewett said.

At the time, winds were blowing less than 10 mph, he said, and that was helping contain the blaze. Lonokailua-Hewett described the perimeter line late Saturday afternoon as being “cold,” meaning there were no burning areas at the edges of the fire.

Olowalu surfers have a close-up view as a pair of helicopter pilots reload their remote-controlled firefighting buckets with seawater Saturday. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

But he cautioned that winds could strengthen or change directions, possibly blowing embers to unburned areas in the middle of the valley where there remained “a lot of big fuels.” He anticipated that it might take a couple of days for the fire to completely burn itself out.

He estimated that Saturday morning’s breakout of the fire expanded its burn area by 50 to 100 acres or to 250 to 300 acres in total. No ground units were deployed in fighting the fire in its second day, he said.

A freshwater supply for helicopters needed to be moved from a paintball field area to mauka of the Olowalu dump because of a Maui Paintball tournament, he said.

Meanwhile, helicopter crews dipped water buckets into the ocean to fight the fire.

No structures were damaged Saturday, and there were no reported injuries, Lono-kailua-Hewett said.

Helicopter crews were expected to continue flying until dark Saturday and “hang tight” until this morning, he said.

On the ground, firefighters were set to patrol the fire perimeter through the night to watch for flare-ups, he said.

On Friday, about 50 people were evacuated from around 30 homes. There were no reported evacuations Saturday.