While I had significant anxiety about the “fires” I would have to put out on my editor’s desk when I returned home, I had no idea that I had most to worry about literal fires on Maui. Last week, the first and most significant blaze spread through Thursday brush and fallow fields, devouring 9,000 acres. A second, smaller fire burned 200 acres on Friday, the County of Maui said.
“I’m very thankful for the tremendous hard work by our firefighters, police, first responders, private contractors, emergency management staff, County of Maui department personnel, volunteers and everyone who helped protect and care for our residents and visitors,” said Mayor Michael Victorino in a July 15 statement announcing the fires were 100 percent contained. “It was a great team effort, and another reason I’m proud to say Maui no ka oi.”
But another hero has arisen from the flame’s ashes: Oprah.
Trying to learn more about the fire from the Continent, Oprah came out on top of my searches in headlines like “Oprah Winfrey praised for opening her private road during Maui fire to help evacuations.”
It sparked a sensible question from commenters: Why does Oprah own an entire road?
I’m sure it’s a question many locals have asked before, especially those who have to make the roundabout excursion from Upcountry to Kihei through Central Maui, rather than the bee line that Oprah holds the keys to. It’s worth revisiting an August 2011 story by former MauiTime editor Anthony Pignataro, titled “The Deal With Oprah Winfrey’s Private Maui Road”:
“Oprah’s road is concrete and asphalt 12 feet across. Goodfellow Brothers paved it in December 2010. The road stretches from the water tank at Kealakapu Road near Piilani Highway in Kihei to Keokoa, near Haleakala Highway. It’s a road locals have been waiting for 40 years – a potentially golden road that could radically ease traffic congestion in Central Maui.
“That is, if the public could use it, which it most certainly cannot. ‘The paved road, drainage swales and detention ponds will be privately maintained,’ stated a June 2009 Drainage Report on the effects of paving the road prepared by Wayne I. Arakaki Engineer LLC for OW Ranch, LLC, (the initials reportedly stand for ‘Oprah Winfrey’) and kept on file with the Maui County Planning Department. ‘This is a private roadway and will not be open to the public.’
“OW Ranch paid for the road. ‘It wasn’t cheap,’ said OW Ranch agent Hugh Starr when asked how much it cost. He ultimately declined to provide a figure, and officials with both the county Planning Department and Haleakala Ranch said they either didn’t know or couldn’t provide the number (grading the road did require a $34,520 bond, which county civil engineer Lance Nakamura said represented just a fraction of the grading costs).
“According to Starr, the road lies entirely on Haleakala Ranch land, which he said was the road’s main user. But he added that OW Ranch and Kamaole Ranch (which is owned by Winfrey’s former personal trainer Bob Greene, who is also listed as a manager for OW Ranch) retain access rights to the road that dated back to OW Ranch’s original purchase of the 1,000 Upcountry acres from Haleakala Ranch.”
So there you have it. Oh, and according to Forbes, Oprah is worth $2.6 billion.
Illustration by Scrappers