Kahoʻolawe Restoration Begins After Fire Burns 9,000 Acres

Mar 5, 2020

The Naulu rain clouds make their way to Kaho'olawe.
Credit Protect Kahoolawe Ohana

Native Hawaiians say their calls for rain have been answered on the island of Kahoʻolawe. A week-long brushfire scorched more than 9,000 acres there before it was contained last Saturday and fire crews extinguished a flareup earlier this week. A group headed to Kahoʻolawe Thursday to assess the damage and begin restoration of the land.

For more than 40 years, the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana has been caring for the island – once used by the military for training and bombing practice. The group aims to restore Kahoʻolawe’s natural resources and revive cultural practices.

An aerial view of the Kahoʻolawe brush fire that began on February 21, 2020.
Credit Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana

But the recent brushfire charred buildings and burned supplies, setting back their work. ʻOhana member ʻĀnela Evans has been volunteering on Kahoʻolawe for 15 years.

“We know that our field camp in Ahupū which is on the northern side of the island sustained damage,”
 says Evans, “We anticipate our equipment there chainsaws, weedwhackers, as well as equipment for camping and kitchen supplies have perished.”

Evans says initial estimates to replace what was lost amount to about $10,000. The group is raising funds to help with the fire recovery effort. 

The fire that began nearly two weeks ago on Kahoʻolawe's west end consumed nearly one-third of the island. After several days of fighting the blaze, the Maui Fire Department pulled out because of concerns over unexploded ordnance.

In keeping with ancestral practices, the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana called on the Nāulu rain clouds that form in the uplands of Maui to carry rain to Kahoʻolawe. Davianna Pōmaikaʻi McGregor, a fomer member of the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission, believes this was the best course of action.

"This is what our kūpuna had done when they needed rain," says McGregor, "They would call for rain." 

Wet weather finally doused the island over the weekend containing the fire. ‘Ohana member Kaliko Baker says the group views the fire as a blessing in disguise.

"ʻO kekahi, ʻo ke ahi, ʻo ia kekahi o nā mea e hoʻomaʻemaʻe ai ka ʻāina, i ʻano kapu hou ka ʻāina."

Baker says native Hawaiians traditionally view fire as a cleansing force, a reset button to reconsecrate the land.

The blaze may have uncovered archeological sites and unexploded ordnance but the group won’t know for sure until they get to the island.

Members of the Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana lash a ceremonial stand for use in the annual makahiki ceremony on the island.
Credit Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana

The fire did open up coastal areas where the group has been re-establishing a trail around the island known as the ala loa. Fields of invasive grass have also been cleared by the fire, making possible a replanting of indigenous species.

“So we’re hoping that the land cleared by the fire will be an opportunity for native plants such as pili, ʻaʻaliʻi, native grasses like kamanomano to take over new ground and replenish themselves no island,” says Evans.

The group’s vision, Evans says, is that the island will one day flourish with native plant life and with native people.