So that was some fire we had on the Pali this weekend (at press time, it’s still only about 70 percent contained, according to today’s Maui News). The cause remains under investigation, though fire officials have mentioned a downed power line was apparently involved. The threat of a wildfire on the Pali in the summer–when it’s covered with plenty of brown brush–is always a threat, but Saturday’s ferocious winds whipped it into a conflagration that has so far consumed nearly 5,000 acres.
Leave it to Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa–who was briefly delayed on the Westside during the fire and had to return to Wailuku via Kahakuloa–to cut to the chase:
“Last night’s brushfire was a perfect example of why we need an alternate route to and from West Maui,” Arakawa said in a July 3 statement. “Our residents and visitors can be cut off at any time due to a brushfire, rockslide or even a bad traffic accident, as they were yesterday. Even I was stuck in Lahaina last night and was forced to take the back road out, which is not made to handle heavy traffic. I urge our state delegates, governor and lieutenant governor to do another Environmental Impact Study that looks at every alternative to creating another West Maui route. These events that cut off Lahaina from the rest of the island are happening all too often and we need to look for other solutions. In the meantime I would like to put out a big mahalo to our fire fighters, police officers, Red Cross workers and others who worked tirelessly to keep us all safe, thank you for all that you do.”
Seriously, this is the thing. The Pali is a natural choke-point, putting a substantial portion of the island’s population at risk of being cut off if the Pali’s closed for whatever reason. It’s long been a fact of life around here that much of Maui’s workforce lives in Central Maui but works on the Westside, and they need better options than either hunkering in place or slowly making their way through Kahakuloa (which is usually closed off too during emergencies anyway).
Where would this new road would go? Who knows, but it’s past due that we start seeing some options.
Photo of fire crews in Ukumehame on July 2: Angie Thompson