The Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge and Visitor Center re-opened on Monday following damage from the Waiko Road fire earlier this month.
The 700-acre property was established in 1992 as a place to observe protected wildlife in one of Hawaii’s few wetlands. Native species such as ‘alae ke‘oke‘o, the Hawaiian coot, and ae‘o, the Hawaiian stilt, live in the refuge.
The Waiko Road fire spread through former sugar cane fields in parts of Central Maui, burning 100 acres of the center’s property. The burned area was covered by kiawe trees, a non-native plant species.
While no facilities were damaged, the fire came within 10 meters of the visitor center. With numerous fires having occurred on drought-stricken Maui, the refuge has been taking fire preventive measures at Keālia Pond.
Glenn Klingler, project leader of the wildlife refuge complex on Oahu and Maui, explained native plants played a key role in stopping this month's fire from advancing.
“Native plants aren’t going to carry the fire like these non-native kiawes,” said Klingler. “So, with these fuel breaks, we’re not just protecting the building and structures but it also provides a buffer when we have these native plants in place.”
Naio, pōhinahina, ‘ohi, and ‘ōhi’a are some of the native plants that helped stop the flames.
The center also protected its facilities by plowing a barren area of land between the kiawe forest and the buildings, which prevented the fire from moving farther than it did.
In its native gardens, the wildlife refuge center also placed woodchips. Klingler said the wood chips caused the fire to smolder, preventing it from moving toward hard-to-reach areas such as treetops.
“Those are some things we’ve done in the past and what we’re going to do in the future to try to safeguard our facilities and equipment,” said Klingler. “It worked really well this time, and so, we’re very pleased."
Federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service, also helped to prevent the refuge from sustaining major fire damage.
The public can see the Keālia Pond wildlife on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. except for federal holidays.