Public vigilance can help our firefighters respond quickly

Our County

Across much of Central Maui and north Kihei, black burn scars show where wildfires totaling 9,200 acres swept through open fields of dry brush July 11 and 12. Thankfully, there were no injuries or deaths.

But these fires triggered evacuations, closed roads and damaged a Maui Electric Co. transmission line, fiber-optic cables, abandoned buildings in brush areas, storage containers and some inoperable county heavy equipment near Kuihelani Highway. An evacuation at the Maui Humane Society led to staff and volunteers taking more than 200 animals out of harm’s way.

Now, firefighters work to mop up, responding to public reports of “smokers” and putting out flare-ups. The fires were declared fully contained Monday morning.

Residents and visitors should not go into burn areas. There may be unseen hazards, such as hot spots and underground voids caused by roots and root balls burning underground.

People also should call 911 immediately if they see smoke or flames in areas of unburned brush. In the days to come, there will be many areas left smoldering well within the burned area that are of less concern. However, we ask that if you are unsure if an area is a true threat, please call 911 to report it. Public vigilance can help our firefighters respond quickly, which can mean the difference between a small fire quickly extinguished and one that burns out of control.

This week, Maui police arrested a 28-year-old man on suspicion of unauthorized control of a motor vehicle and first-degree arson. Police said the arrest was in connection with the 9,000-acre fire that began the morning of July 11 near the intersection of Kuihelani Highway and Waiko Road. The suspect remained in custody as of Wednesday.

As alarming as all this is, I’m inspired by the tireless dedication of our firefighters, police and first responders. They never hesitated to protect lives and property in the face of these dangerous, fast-moving fires.

Our community did not panic. Instead, we stood tall and did whatever needed to be done. We know of many examples — probably not all — in which individuals and groups rallied to support our community in its time of need.

In addition to firefighters, police and Maui Humane Society staff and volunteers already mentioned, my thanks on behalf of the County of Maui go out to:

• American Red Cross personnel and volunteers and Department of Parks and Recreation personnel who staffed evacuation shelters at Kamali’i Elementary School, Kihei Community Center, War Memorial Gymnasium and Maui High School.

• Staff and volunteers of St. Theresa Church’s Hale Kau Kau program, which provided 350 meals to people at South Maui shelters. A family holding a first birthday luau shared party food with people seeking shelter at the Kihei Community Center.

• The Maui Visitors Bureau provided 400 mattresses to people at War Memorial. The Valley Isle Credit Union helped with a donation of water. Jersey Mike’s supplied sandwiches for police officers and firefighters. Safeway in Kihei contributed 280 bottles of water and snacks, and Coconut’s Fish Cafe in Kihei served up 150 meals. Cafe O’Lei Restaurants offered 50 percent discounts on July 12 to Maui first responders for lunch or dinner.

• Donations to the War Memorial shelter included water from Church of the Nazarene, Kahului Baptist Church and the Valley Isle Credit Union. Breakfast was provided by Living Way Church, and the Adolfo family served up pizza and water.

Help from the private sector also came from Lowe’s Home Improvement, Safeway Kahului, Home Depot, Panda Express, Queens Grill Inc. and the Grand Wailea.

• I also want to thank our Maui Emergency Management Agency, County of Maui Department of Public Works and Department of Environmental Management — Wastewater Division, the National Park Service, the State of Hawaii Airport Rescue Firefighters, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the Hawaii National Guard.

• Valuable assistance also came from private contractors, including Windward Aviation, Goodfellow Bros., TJ Gomes Trucking Co., C. Hayes Excavations, Mahi Pono, Vares Contracting Co., ROJAC Construction, West Maui Land Co., Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co. and bulldozer operator Rodney Akau.

Mahalo and aloha. By working together, we make Maui no ka oi.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Fridays of the month.