A week ago we had a pretty bad brush fire here on Maui. It started on Wednesday July 10th near Waikapu and spread rapidly across the Central Valley coming very close to North Kihei (and our Sugar Beach condo). The fire ended up burning 9000 acres of brush land. This is mostly former sugar cane land.
As you may recall, A&B finished their sugar cane operations on Maui with their final harvest in December 2016. Since then the land has mostly been fallow, with sugar cane regrowth, weeds and of course kiawe trees growing wild. During their sugar cane operation A&B would irrigate the fields regularly, keeping them nice and green until about 2 years in, when they would have controlled burns and then harvest the sugar cane. These controlled burns would of course generate their fair share of ash particularly in North Kihei. Locals called it ‘Maui Snow’, black ash on cars and roads in the morning. However, A&B would then work up the fields within a few days and things would settle down again.
Last year A&B sold 41,000 acres of sugar cane land to Mahi Pono, a joint venture between a California agricultural group and ironically one of Canada’s largest pension funds. They have very slowly been starting to work up some acres and planting. Unfortunately it’s been an incredibly slow process. We were so used to the green central valley. It’s been brown and dry ever since cessation of the sugar cane operation now. In fact, there have been brush fires the past few summers, prompting the landowners to work up or disk buffer zones near roads as a form of fire break.
On July 10 the fire came so close to North Kihei, our guests at our Sugar Beach condo were evacuated. The Mokulele Hwy (now known as Veterans Hwy) and North Kihei Road to Ma’alaea were both closed due to the fire and heavy smoke and people missed their flights (including me – we had an inter-island flight to Oahu for a hockey tournament). The community pulled together, opened shelters and eventually everyone got to where they needed to go.
In wonderful news, there was no damage to inhabited buildings at all. To our knowledge, noone died in the fire. The police have an ongoing arson investigation for both this fire and a smaller fire which was started between the new Kahului Safeway and Target and the Sugar Cane factory on July 11.
What to expect when you come to Maui?
You’ll noticed the burned area in the central valley as you fly in – in fact, I would love to see your pictures! You’ll see the burned area as you drive across the central valley. You will see the dust blowing badly in the central valley and into North Kihei during certain times of the day. Here in South Kihei we are still getting some ash on our lanai.
However, fire fighters brought the fire under control within two days and are working to put out any flare ups that occur. We are so thankful for these men and women!
Our Sugar Beach condo is fine – no damage. There is still a lot of dust, we apologize. Join us in praying for rain. I’m not sure what else to do to help calm the dust down.