Molokai firefighters responded to three brush fires last Tuesday – for a total of five fires on the island within five days. Two fires burned over 20 acres along Maunaloa Highway three miles west of Kaunakakai Tuesday afternoon, causing a temporarily loss of phone and 911 service. Later that day, firefighters responded to a third, smaller blaze near the highway in west Molokai. Previously, on Thursday, Aug. 18, firefighters responded to two small fires also reported back to back, according to Molokai Fire Captain Travis Tancayo.
Local fire officials said they believe all five fires may have been set intentionally.
The first fire Tuesday was reported about 1:30 p.m. and burned 5,000 square feet just west of Hawaiian Research facilities. The second fire, reported within minutes of the first, burned about 20 acres nearby. Traffic was stopped on Maunaloa Highway for about one hour.
Because of rapid fire team response and favorable winds, the pair of fires Tuesday were contained within two hours, according to Molokai Fire Inspector Rick Schonely.
“If we had had regular trade winds that day, we could still be fighting it,” Schonely said on Friday.
While no buildings were affected, fire damaged two fiber optic cables that provide phone service to much of the island, according to Hawaiian Telcom spokesperson Ann Nishida Fry. Phone service was lost until about 2:30 a.m. the next morning, while teams worked in dark and smoky conditions to cut out sections of the cable and splice in new fiber optics.
All Molokai units and a total of 22 firefighters responded to the pair of fires, with air support from a Maui helicopter. Crews were also were assisted by the county Public Works Department and the Highways Division of the state Department of Transportation.
Access to 911 service was also disconnected for about 45 minutes, during which time emergency calls were routed through Maui. Tancayo said the outage resulted in delayed response for at least one Molokai 911 medical call.
Some Internet and cell phone service were also temporarily lost.
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