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Kihei air unhealthy due to fire

Kula Hospital reports smoke irritation cases

A barrier of tires at the end of the Maui Motorsports Park drag strip, including once-giant Tournahauler tires, smolder Friday morning after burning hot enough to melt an adjacent fence. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The state Department of Health reported unhealthy air conditions in Kihei on Thursday and Friday due to the wildfire and issued recommendations for protection against smoke.

Meanwhile, a few patients visited the Kula Hospital & Clinic emergency room overnight complaining of smoke irritation.

The Health Department said Kihei’s air monitoring station was recording a “hazardous” air quality index of 321 at 4 p.m. Thursday until the station went offline, likely due to an area power outage. “Hazardous” is the highest level, with an index greater than 300; it triggers a health warning of emergency conditions.

On Friday, the Kihei station was back online and recording an “unhealthy” air quality index at 156 at around 6 p.m. “Unhealthy” is an index from 151 to 200, where everyone may begin to experience some adverse health effects and sensitive groups may have more serious symptoms.

The Kahului air condition was “good” on Friday with an index between 0 to 50 despite the Puunene brush fire.

A National Guard Chinook helicopter sends up clouds of gray ash and dust as it lands near the Anthony T. Kahoohanohano Armory on Friday morning. The helicopter was one of four making air drops on the South Maui fire Friday. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Air pollution in Kihei on Thursday and Friday was due to fine particles called PM2.5. Elevated levels of these particles cause breathing problems, especially in people with respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis, according to the Health Department.

“Particulate levels due to the smoke from brush fires may continue to be elevated in areas near and downwind of the fire and could affect communities in varying degrees, said Marianne Rossio, chief of DOH’s Clean Air Branch. “We’re advising residents and visitors to stay informed and heed warnings and instructions provided by state and county emergency officials.”

Nicole Apoliona, Kula Hospital & Clinic physician, said a couple of people reported respiratory complaints and were treated without incident. She advised people to stay indoors with windows shut and medications nearby if smoke or ash is impacting the area.

If people are inundated with heavy smoke due to emergency events such as wildfires, access to paper masks or placing a wet shirt over the nose as a barrier, “anything that will keep particles out,” is a good idea, she said. “Get out of that situation as soon as possible,” Apoliona added.

The Health Department recommends that individuals with respiratory conditions who live or work in an area impacted by smoke or vog should consider the following guidelines:

Maui Humane Society Director of Development and Community Outreach Nancy Willis talks on the phone during Thursday’s evacuation. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

• Stay indoors and close windows and doors.

• Check that air conditioners or air purifiers are working properly and change filters if necessary.

• If taking medications, make sure to have an adequate supply and use them as directed by a physician.

• Contact a physician if more medication is needed and get clear instructions of what to do if lung conditions suddenly worsen.

• Do not smoke and avoid second-hand smoke.

Maui firefighters clear and test a fire hydrant next to the Maui Humane Society on Thursday afternoon while waiting to make a stand against a fast-moving fire bearing down upon the facility. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

• Avoid people who have colds and other lung infections and wash hands thoroughly.

• Get plenty of rest and limit physical exertion.

• Drink plenty of fluids to loosen mucus. Warm beverages work best.

• Contact a physician as soon as any respiratory problem develops.

• If possible, leave the affected area.

While these suggestions are intended primarily for people with respiratory or chronic lung disease, they also are useful for healthy people during air pollution episodes, such as particulate dust, brush fires, fireworks smoke or volcanic haze.

For air quality information, contact the Clean Air Branch at (808) 586-4200 or visit health.hawaii.gov/cab/hawaii-ambient-air-quality-data/ to access air quality data.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.