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The browning of West Maui

May 13, 2010
BY LOUISE ROCKETT

The Pioneer Mill abandoned the sugarcane fields of Lahaina in 1999, and the browning of the once verdant slopes of the West Maui Mountains began.


With the flumes no longer feeding the lush plantation growth, the oft-described green backdrop has dried, leaving the community open to flash flooding and raging rains of fire.


The El Nino weather pattern this winter hasn’t helped at all, and extreme drought conditions prevail.


As the summer season approaches, National Weather Service Red Flag Warnings of the leeward slopes of the island are becoming the norm.


A Red Flag Warning is an advisory forecast issued by the National Weather Service, alerting community organizations, firefighters and citizens that conditions are ripe for the emergence of severe wildfires in the next 24 hours.


There were at least two alerts last week, and the conflagration that started on Monday, May 3, consumed 1,100 acres of vegetation between Ukumehame and Olowalu.


With crews working around the clock, the threat was 90% contained by Friday, May 7.


Although approximately 100 people were evacuated from Olowalu Mauka subdivision, no injuries or damages to structures were reported.


Unlike the controlled fires of the fields of yesteryear, these flames, representing the loss of our ag lands, are burning out of control.


The cause is under investigation.

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