Cooperative Big Island firefighting contains brush fire

| July 21, 2017 | 0 Comments

PTA firefighters, with help from Hawaii county, state and other federal agencies fought to “maintain the wet line,” to prevent a brush fire in Waimea on the Big Island from jumping across Highway 190. (Photos by Pohakuloa Training Area Firefighter Dathan Lloyd)

“Tremendous cooperative effort” cited

Eric M Hamilton
Public Affairs Officer
Pohakuloa Training Area
PŌHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawai‘i —Once Pōhakuloa Training Area Fire Captain Matt Kaea received the call-out from Hawaii County’s Fire Dispatch Center at 12:30 p.m. on July 7, PTA’s first four firefighters and two brush trucks arrived at the fire near the Waimea Airport by 1 p.m.

A second group of PTA firefighters and more equipment arrived to the area along Highway 190 at around 4 p.m. and the fire was contained by around 8 p.m. For the next four or five days, firefighting continued until the fire was out, Kaea said. The fire had initially begun in Hawaiian Homelands and burned about 2,200 acres last week.

PTA’s Asst. Fire Chief of Operations, Karl Hopkins outlined the response process: “Once we’d emptied our house here, I began to initiate recall–where we call our firefighters who are off-duty to come back in, to continue sustaining the mission at PTA, but also in case the fire threatens PTA.”

“Our main area of responsibility was to maintain a hold, so that the fire wouldn’t jump Highway 190.” Hopkins said. “PTA’s firefighters maintained what’s called a wet line, preventing grass along the road from burning too high, sending embers and flames across the road and spreading the fire. Wind can fan the flames to as much as 30 feet high, which can cause the fire to jump the road. They did an awesome job of maintaining and holding the line so that the fire didn’t jump the road–covering as much as a two-mile stretch of the highway.”

Smoke from a wildfire that burned 2,200 acres of pastureland in Waimea on the Big Island on July 7 could be seen from several miles away.

PTA firefighter Chuck Brown said it was the most intense brushfire that he’d ever fought in his entire 27-year career, causing him to use specialized equipment he’d never before needed.

In a media release, Hawaii County Mayor Kim praised those who teamed up to fight this fire. “This was a tremendous cooperative effort, where everybody came together to control, contain and put out the fire. I cannot find words to express how much I appreciate everyone’s hard work, quick action and the tremendous team system of responding to this fire.”

But why are PTA firefighters doing fighting fires off-base? And how were they able to respond so quickly?

“Any time we get a fire on the lower side of Highway 190, there’s potential for that fire to spread into PTA,” Hopkins said. “Past fires in that same area have jumped the road and began burning in PTA’s areas, such as the Keamuku.”

But it’s more than just protecting PTA from fires near its borders. Cooperation for responses both on- and off-base are determined under “automatic aid” and “mutual aid” agreements, which ensure the fastest possible response. PTA Fire Chief Eric H. Moller said these agreements have been in place since 2001.

Robert Madrigal, PTA firefighter, said PTA responds under automatic aid agreements for anything that occurs between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, and from Mile Marker 17 on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway to Highway 190… in addition to its mission at PTA, which spans an area a third the size of Oahu.

Madrigal, who has spent half his 27-year firefighting career at PTA, said, “about half our calls may be mutual aid agreement calls,” bringing PTA firefighters all over the island. “Routinely, we’ve gone to Kawaihae, Waikoloa and Waimea–a lot of places on the island. Over the years, I’ve been to Ookala,” Madrigal said.

Brown said fog contributes to a high rate of traffic accidents along the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, which is a primary reason for call-outs; other reasons PTA firefighters provide automatic aid have included elevation sickness, lost hikers and car problems—in addition to structure fires and wildland fires.

PTA Firefighter Ash Crawford thinks that the cooperation between local, county and federal firefighters and emergency responders works really well. “Every call I’ve been on with them, it’s all gone well. I’ve never seen anyone get into a chest match–seeing whose chest is bigger. I’d say the mutual aid agreement works well,” Crawford said.

“I think the mutual aid agreement is good because we all need that extra support at times. The mutual aid agreement flows in both directions,” Hopkins said. “It’s a give-and-take that has at times benefited PTA, and at other times, the County of Hawai`i.”

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Category: News, U.S. Army Garrison-Pohakuloa (USAG-Pohakuloa)

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