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County expects hefty bill from historic blaze

A tally of the cost of battling the Big Island’s largest wildland fire in history likely will not be available until September.

Hawaii Fire Department Chief Kazuo Todd, however, indicated Wednesday that the bill will be significant for battling the fire that broke out July 30 and scorched 40,000-acre-plus fire, destroying two homes, before containment was reached Friday. Crews continue to douse hotspots and flareups within the burn area.

The cost to contract more than a dozen of the 27 bulldozers used to contain the blaze will likely alone reach $250,000, he told the Hawaii County Fire Commission during its monthly meeting at the West Hawaii Civic Center in Kailua-Kona.

Federal funds will help cover some of the costs associated with the fire, he said. Not including costs associated with the ongoing blaze, the department’s spending for the first month of fiscal year 2021-22 through July 31 was on track at 13.61% of the $52.9 million annual budget spent.

Todd described the fire as the most unpredictable fire the department has battled because of the weather conditions. The high winds changed direction rapidly, forcing the department and other agencies involved to move their resources with the changing winds. At one point, firefighters observed a 50-foot fire tornado.

“This was the most intense fire we have had on the island in terms of wind and acreage. We dumped everything we had on it,” said Todd. “We had teams from Maui and every agency on the island on scene.”

At the fire’s peak, 52 apparatus, 27 bulldozers and nine helicopters worked to contain the blaze. Among the apparatus working the fire was the third and newest Big Dog wildland fire response vehicle donated by an anonymous donor through the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation, which was blessed on July 31 and immediately put into service fighting the Mana Road fire.

Todd called the fire a learning experience.

“What can we learn from this? How can we improve operations for the next fire?” he stated, saying the department was still analyzing its response.

Volunteer Fire Capt. John Bertsch said all volunteer units from West Hawaii were on hand fighting the fire. His unit, 7 Bravo, was at the fire 68 hours straight. He noted extraordinary community support for the firefighters and other personnel fighting the blaze in providing food, beverages, water tankers and dozers.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

In other business, Todd said he is exploring different geographic information system programs that would help the command center track all units, including bulldozers and water tankers, that would streamline operations especially in a fast-moving fire like the Mana Road blaze.

The next commission meeting is scheduled for Sept. 8 in Hilo.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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