As of Sunday, DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife crews are continuing efforts to extinguish the Poamoho fire that has been burning since Aug. 1 in the Ewa Forest Reserve in Central Oahu.
The fire is 85 percent contained.
Twenty-four DOFAW personnel are on the fire line with 11 additional firefighters from Maui joining the effort. Three engines and a helicopter are also part of the firefighting team, with efforts focused on perimeter containment of the fire and mopping up.
Thick smoke caused six schools to close Tuesday: Leilehua High, Wahiawa Elementary, Wahiawa Middle, Iliahi Elementary, Trinity Lutheran and Wahiawa Baptist.
“It just keeps getting worse and worse and worse,” Iliahi Elementary parent Brian Rudd said Tuesday. “They had a lot of students all through the school yesterday coughing really bad from the smoke. The saddest thing is, we don’t know what’s actually burning out there. There are a lot of toxins causing allergic reactions and stuff. It’s dangerous.”
The schools reopened Wednesday after overnight and morning rain improved conditions.
Officials said Tuesday, smoke prevented crews from conducting an accurate aerial assessment/mapping of the fire, which included several spot fires that have periodically threatened private property and homes.
The DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Honolulu Fire Department and U.S. Army combined forces to battle the fire which burned in 60 percent native forest comprised of ohia, koa and uluhe fern.
“The incident commander has estimated that this will be a long-term situation,” said Honolulu Fire Dept. Capt. David Jenkins. “It is hard to get to places because there is a lot of steep terrain and inaccessible areas.”
At one point, eight helicopters made water bucket drops (four contracted by DOFAW and four from the U.S. Army), while 40 firefighters utilizing seven fire vehicles fought the fire.
All of the DOFAW firefighters attacked the fire on foot due to the rough and steep terrain.
Health Concerns, Guidelines
The state Department of Health is advising residents living in Wahiawa and surrounding areas to take precautions and plan ahead for potential smoke exposure from the wildfire.
Winds blowing in the southwest direction have extended the plume toward Mililani, Makakilo, Kapolei, Ewa, and Waipahu. The effect on nearby communities may vary largely due to unpredictable wind and weather conditions.
Smoke exposure can cause breathing problems in individuals, especially those with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis. If you live or work in an area being impacted by the brush fire smoke consider taking precautionary measures.
Medical experts say in addition to the smoke, residents can also inhale particles that can cause symptoms similar to an asthma attack.
“They can actually displace oxygen that you’re breathing and cause difficulty in actually staying completely alert. In fact serious smoke inhalation can cause seizures and even coma,” said Dr. Kalani Brady from the John A. Burns School of Medicine.
Brady says in addition to coughing and shortness of breath, people can also get mentally confused, and there are long-term effects to those who are exposed to this type of smoke multiple times.
“You can scar the lungs theoretically over a period of time,” Brady said.
DOH offers the following guidelines for individuals with respiratory conditions:
- Stay indoors and close your windows and doors.
- Check that your air conditioner or air purifier is working properly, change filters if necessary.
- If you take medication for a condition, make sure you have an adequate supply on hand and use it as directed by your physician.
- Contact your physician if you need more medication and get clear instructions of what to do if your lung condition suddenly worsens.
- Do not smoke and avoid second-hand smoke.
- Get plenty of rest and limit physical exertion.
- Drink plenty of fluids to loosen mucus. Warm beverages seem to work best.
- Contact your physician as soon as any respiratory problem develops.
- If possible, leave the affected area.
While these suggestions are intended primarily for persons with respiratory or chronic lung disease, they are also useful for healthy persons during air pollution episodes such as heavy dust and other airborne particulates, brush fires, firework smoke, or volcanic haze.
On Monday, a flare-up prompted evacuations for residents who live on Puninoni Street, Puninoni Place, Nonohe Street and Nonohe Place at around 4:30 p.m. The mandatory evacuation was lifted around 8 p.m. when officials determined the fire was no longer a threat to homes.
Residents said thick smoke and ash were everywhere.
“It burns because it’s hot. My dogs, they are golden labs and they were black because they were covered in ashes,” said Madison Richardson.
“It was scary because my friends were playing and there was ash flying down,” said resident Jolie Abanes.
While the evacuations were in effect, the Hawaii Red Cross opened an emergency shelter at Wahiawa District Park for affected residents in coordination with the Department of Emergency Management. It was staffed by the Department of Parks and Recreation and Red Cross.
Emergency Management volunteers also helped Honolulu police with traffic control.
The cause of the fire is not known at this time.
One Honolulu firefighter was reported to be hospitalized Sunday with non-life-threatening injuries.