Hawaii wildfire spreads, nears protected rainforest

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 23, 2011 11:53 AM
Hawaii wildfire spreads, nears protected rainforest

HONOLULU (Reuters) - A wildfire touched off by the eruption of the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island has spread and burned some 2,000 acres of national park land, threatening a fragile, protected rain forest, authorities said on Wednesday.

Authorities are not sure when the fire might be contained, said Gary Wuchner, a spokesman for the National Park Service.

The flames were being fanned by "strong gusty trade winds," the park service said.

Firefighters were dropping buckets of water on its hot spots from helicopters, it said.

"Approximately 2,000 acres have burned, and there is no estimated containment date," it said in a statement.

The wildfire was caused by lava from the March 5 eruption of the volcano's Kamoamoa fissure, and it is burning about seven miles southeast of the Kilauea Visitor Center, located on the volcano's east rift in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Firefighters are hoping to protect a lowland rain forest on the east rift that is home to endangered Hawaiian bats, happyface spiders, carnivorous caterpillars and Hawaiian honeycreepers, all found only in Hawaii, it said.

Kilauea is one of five volcanoes that formed the Big Island, officially known as the island of Hawaii. Periodic eruptions of the volcano have destroyed 213 homes since the volcano emerged from a period of dormancy in 1983.

The latest episode began with the 370-foot collapse of the floor of the Pu'u O'o crater and opening of the 535-yard long Kamoamoa fissure on March 5.

(Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Additional reporting by Jorene Barut in Honolulu; Editing by Greg McCune)