Firefighters continued Monday to battle two wildfires that the Army said began as the result of lightning strikes on Sunday afternoon at the Army’s Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii island.
PTA spokeswoman Amy Phillips said local hunters witnessed the lightning strikes starting the fires and then contacted Army officials. The strikes started two fires at Pohakuloa’s Keamuku Maneuver Area east of Highway 190, which officials have called the KMA Complex fire.
Officials said Monday afternoon that the smaller of the two fires by Highway 190 is 90 % contained while the larger fire in the interior hills is about 70 % contained. Between the two, approximately 1, 500 acres have been burned. Army officials said.
“PTA, county, and volunteer firefighters are partnering to fight the fires and battling the on-going strong trade winds, ” the Army said in a news release.
U.S. Army and Hawaii County helicopters have been supporting firefighters on the ground while bulldozers have been building fire lines to mitigate the spread of the flames. According to the news release, PTA leadership called Monday for three more Army military helicopters (two UH-60 Black Hawks and a CH-47 Chinook ) from the 25th Infantry Division’s 25th Combat Aviation Brigade at Wheeler Army Airfield to support with water bucket drops.
“These helicopters will continue their efforts tomorrow, ” officials said, adding that a Hawaii County helicopter has also been assisting with bucket drops.
PTA sits between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa and spans 132, 000 acres. With fields of lava and volcanic soil, it’s classified as a subalpine tropical dryland forest and is a habitat for Hawaii’s state bird, the nene ; the hoary bat ; and several plant and animal species that exist nowhere else on the planet.
The Army is hoping to maintain PTA as its 65-year lease on a parcel of state land that makes up a key part of the range nears expiration in 2029, and which the state has designated a conservation district. Pohakuloa is the military’s largest land training ground in Hawaii, and the Army has made it part of its new Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center—a series of Pacific region training ranges for American troops and their allies for combat operations.
But in 2022, local officials and lawmakers crafted by the Army, citing a dearth of data and concerns about environmental impacts. The state Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands wrote in response that “it appears that military training is in direct conflict of the Conservation District designation.”
The Army has been stepping up its investment in firefighting resources and recently received new congressional funding for wildfire prevention and conservation efforts as 2029 gets closer and service leaders prepare to make their case to keep the land.
“We thank the community for their continued support, ” the Army said in its news release on the KMA Complex fire. “PTA is coordinating with Hawaii County Civil Defense to ensure the public is kept informed.”
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