Army training burns 450 acres, Navy unexploded ordance

October 29, 2013 

On October 10, Army training activity caused a brush fire that burned for 18 days and scorched more than 450 acres of the Waiʻanae mountains. The column of thick blackish brown smoke could be seen all the way from Honolulu.  In the Kona winds, the smoke blanketed the north shore for nearly a week.

The news reported that the fire was “100% contained” on Monday, 10/28/2013. The army claims that no homes or endangered species were threatened by the fires:

The fire on Army and Dole Food Co. property has burned about 450 acres of brush land but posed no threat to facilities or endangered species, Army spokesman Dennis Drake said.

However it is impossible to know for certain what impacts the fire may have had on the ecosystem or on Native Hawaiian cultural sites until a thorough biological and cultural survey can be conducted. Furthermore, the fire could have long term negative impacts on native ecosystems.

The Waiʻanae mountains is an endangered species hot spot, with some extremely rare species found no where else in the world. The more pernicious impact is the way that fires create space for invasive weeds to aggressively spread and transform the ecosystem in lasting ways. These weeds eventually can overtake native forests that may have been spared from the direct impact of the fire, but may succumb to the altered landscape in the future.

Līhuʻe (the location of the Army Schofield training range) was an important cultural and political center for Oʻahu chiefs. There are hundreds of cultural sites in the impact zone alone. It is unclear what cultural sites may have been affected by the fire.

In addition to respiratory problems caused by particulate matter (smoke particles and ash), contaminants in the training range, including explosives, energetics, lead and depleted uranium can be mobilized by fires.  There has been a reported increase in health problems in the surrounding area according to Hawaii News Now:

Hawaii News Now – KGMB and KHNL

The brushfire that burned on Schofield Barracks property has been 100% contained.  However the fire, which burned 450 acres of land, caused headaches for residents of central Oahu.

Although the fire has never threatened any homes, it has proved to be a big concern for many residents of Wahiawa.

The reason is all the smoke that has drifted into town over the past six days.

“There has been an uptick in the number of patients coming in with respiratory complaints” said Doctor Thomas Forney, the Director of the Emergency Department at Wahiawa General Hospital.

Meanwhile, the AP reports (10.29.2013) that a Navy contractor Cape Environmental Management Inc. will detonate unexploded munitions dredged from the sediment in Ke Awalau o Puʻuloa (Pearl Harbor):

The Naval Facilities Engineering Command said Monday a contractor will destroy the munitions using controlled detonations at a safe location on the Waipio Peninsula.

The article suggests that the ordnance may be “from the 1941 Japanese bombing and the explosion of a landing ship in West Lock in 1944.”

But other ordnance has been discovered in the channel at Puʻuloa that came from U.S. training activities.

Boy, a Navy dependent, admits starting fires in Navy housing

July 21, 2012 

The Honolulu Star Advertiser reports “Police: Boy confesses to starting fires in Navy housing” (July 20, 2012):

A 12-year-old boy confessed to setting a series of fires that damaged homes in a Navy housing complex on the Pearl City Peninsula over the weekend, police said.

Two of the fires caused $94,000 in damage to two separate homes and smoke and water damage spread to three other units. Eleven people — a family of four, a family of three and two families of two — were affected.

The boy, a Navy dependent, is not a suspect in a brush fire at Sunday at 3:17 p.m. in an open field next to an abandoned warehouse on Victor Wharf Access Road near the scene of the earlier fires. that case is still under investigation.

The suspect in the fires left a spray painted message near the fire scenes suggesting the fires were deliberately set and would continue, police said.

Fire in Kahuku Training Area, burning shorts and RIMPAC aircraft assault Pohakuloa

June 28, 2012 

KHON reported that there was a brush fire in the Kahuku Training Area this afternoon:

The Honolulu Fire Department reported that the Kahuku Training Area fire is contained. All firefighting operations were concluded by 5:45 p.m. Army Range Control personnel will monitor the fire area overnight.

The Honolulu Fire Department reports that the Kahuku Training Area fire is 90 percent contained. The fire started shortly before 2:30 p.m. and burned approximately 3.5 acres in the Army training area. The HFD worked with the Federal Fire Department and Army Fire and reported the fire 90 percent contained as of 5 p.m.

The Honolulu Fire Department is working with the Federal Fire Department and Army Fire to contain a small wildfire in the Army’s Kahuku Training Area, approximately 1-2 miles above Kamehameha Highway. There are no reports of property damaged or threatened by this fire and no reports of injuries.

The Army is not allowed to do live fire training in Kahuku.  So I wonder what the source of the fire was.  The recent fire in Lualualei that burned more than 1200 acres began inside the Navy base.  Sometimes, old phosphorous illumination rounds left behind from past training activity have been known to spontaneously ignite when exposed to air.   This is a continuing problem in Lihu’e, where the Schofield Training Range is located.

Recently in San Onofre, CA, a woman suffered burns when her shorts burst into flames.  The fire was caused by strange “rocks” picked up at the beach:

Lyn Hiner, a 43-year-old California mom, is in the hospital recovering from second- and third-degree burns after some colored rocks her family found on the beach exploded in her shorts pocket and caught fire, ABC News reports.

Hiner’s daughters found the green and orange rocks during an outing to San Onofre State Beach in southern California and gave the rocks to their mother.

When Hiner and her husband, Rob, were preparing to go out that night, the rocks erupted in her pocket, she told ABC News.

[. . .]

“There were actual flames coming off her cargo shorts,” Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Marc Stone told ABC News.

Scientists investigating the incident say the seven rocks that Hiner’s daughters brought back contained traces of phosphorus, the chemical found on the tips of matches, ABC News reports.

In 2007, a series of news stories reported that pieces of ocean-dumped munitions were washing ashore in Wai’anae and that homeless residents were stringing these into “Hawaiian Jade” to give to tourists.   Could it be that incidents like this are the origin of the urban legend that bad things happen to visitors who take rocks from Hawai’i?

Meanwhile, Hawai’i island will assaulted by increased aircraft traffic and noise as RIMPAC training takes place at Pohakuloa:

The amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) transits through the Pacific Ocean. Essex is deployed for Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise 2012, the world'€™s largest multinational maritime exercise, which includes 22 nations, 42 ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Raul Moreno Jr.)The amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) transits through the Pacific Ocean. Essex is deployed for Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise 2012, the world’€™s largest multinational maritime exercise, which includes 22 nations, 42 ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Raul Moreno Jr.)


An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the "Bounty Hunters" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 2 breaks to enter the landing pattern over the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). U.S. Navy photo by MC2 James R. EvansAn F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the “Bounty Hunters” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 2 breaks to enter the landing pattern over the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) last year. U.S. Navy photo by MC2 James R. Evans

PŌHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawaii— Big Island residents will hear increased aircraft noise over Pōhakuloa Training Area due to the beginning of the Navy’s biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, the world’s largest international maritime exercise.

U.S. Navy and Air Force aircraft, as well as aircraft from some of the other 21 participating nations, will begin arriving at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam this week.

Navy fighter aircraft began training over PTA on June 24 and will continue until July 1. They will also train from July 7-9. RIMPAC is scheduled to begin officially on June 29 and conclude Aug. 3.

All noise abatement complaints can be directed to the RIMPAC Command Information Bureau at (808) 472-0239. For more information about RIMPAC, visit the exercise website at

Nuclear sub fire in Maine reminder that Hawai’i had close calls in the past

June 14, 2012 

As Ka’ala Farm begins to recuperate from the recent fire that started on Lualualei Naval Reservation, burned 1200 acres of Wai’anae shrubland, and destroyed irrigation pipe and the traditional hale pili (grass thatched structure), and as Hawai’i braces for the onslaught of RIMPAC, I was reminded of another fire May 23 that nearly destroyed a high tech U.S. submarine in Maine.

Seven people were injured in the blaze aboard the nuclear-powered submarine the USS Miami as it was docked at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine.  The news media reported that “Cause of USS Miami fire narrowed to vacuum” (June 9, 2012):

U.S. Navy investigators said it was not a malfunction within the vacuum cleaner that caused the fire aboard the USS Miami on May 23. Rather, something hot was sucked into a vacuum cleaner that subsequently ignited materials within.

Moreover, the Navy said in statement released Friday, the vacuum cleaner should have been emptied. Navy Public Affairs said shipyards “are directed to empty … vacuum cleaners each shift, or remove them from the ship.”

According to a statement released by the public affairs office at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the fire started with a “heat source” that was vacuumed up, “igniting debris in the vacuum cleaner.”

The Navy estimated the cost of the damage to be $400 million.  Plus,:

The Navy estimated that an additional 10 percent cost — or $40 million more — would be needed to account for disruption to other planned work across all naval shipyards and for potential assistance from private sector contractors, the shipyard said.

A shipyard source told me that the temperature outside the ballast reached more than 400 degrees F, which means that the fire was much hotter inside.  This source said that surely a fire of that  intensity would have damaged the temper of the steel.  This person said that they would not go underwater in the sub.  “It would probably be full of tiny cracks.”

The Navy said that there was never a danger of a meltdown of the sub’s nuclear reactor.   But in light of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, which continues to spew radioactive pollution, should we not be skeptical of such assurances?

Pearl Harbor already has 19 nuclear subs, with 5 more on the way.

In the past, we have had close calls with submarine near nuclear disasters.  In 1960 there was fire aboard the USS Sargo docked in Pearl Harbor.  The captain intentionally sunk the ship to extinguish the fire. A sailor was killed.  Had there been a nuclear reactor meltdown, I dread to think about the consequences.

Kaʻala Farm a modern kīpuka in the fire

June 13, 2012 

The fire that began in the Lualualei Naval Reservation and burned 1200 acres in Waiʻanae, including the traditional hale pili classroom at the Kaʻala Farm and irrigation pipes, spared the loʻi kalo.  The farm is a real kīpuka, a green oasis of life amidst the charred landscape.

The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported “Seeds planted for farm’s revival” (June 13, 2012):

Kaala Farm Cultural Learning Center sits like an oasis in upper Wai­anae Valley bordering the Wai­anae Forest Reserve after last week’s wildfire spared it from heavy destruction. Only a grass hale (left of the green taro patches) and adjoining area with a composting toilet building and lau hala grove were destroyed.

Oahu’s largest brush fire this year swept through Wai­anae and Lua­lua­lei valleys charring almost 1,200 acres, but leaving 100 acres near the Wai­anae Kai Forest Reserve mostly untouched — except for a nearly 3-decade-old, 30-foot Hawaiian grass hale.

[. . .]

Enos estimated that it will cost more than $150,000 to replace the hale, built in the mid-1980s. But the real loss of a structure that has come to symbolize Hawaiian culture in a place used for teaching, cultural ceremonies and gatherings may be immeasurable.

The wildfire fire began June 4 at Radford Street and Kole­kole Road on Naval Magazine Lua­lua­lei. It spread into the forest reserve. The Navy said Tuesday that it could not determine how the fire started.


As we have described before, places such as Kaʻala Farm are cultural and political kīpuka, oases in the lava flow that restore the life of the forest:

Enos described the area as being like “kipuka” — which he described as the area that is spared during a lava flow. “It’s like when the lava goes around an old forest area, sparing it. It’s a sanctuary because that’s where seeds come.

“We’ve become a kipuka — for us now is the time for regrowth and restoration — bringing people together, so the culture of the land survives.”

He said that it will take upward of $150,000 to rebuild the hale, which was styled after a canoe hale found in the City of Refuge in Kona.

Ohia logs will have to be cut and brought in from Hawaii island, Enos added.

However, he said the rebuilding of the hale will be used as a workshop for the Wai­anae community.

“We hope to use the opportunity to bring the community together. It is important to have a place of refuge to talk about the land, water and self-sufficiency.”

Kaala Farm was established as a Model Cities Wai­anae Rap Center in 1976, and organizers purchased the Wai­anae Valley land from the state. More than 4,000 students and 2,500 adults participate in its educational programs annually, according to its organizers.

[. . .]

Anyone interested in making a donation to Kaala Farm — including financial and/or materials/supplies contributions, should contact Kaala Farm at 696-4954 or Donations are also being accepted via check at any First Hawaiian Bank location c/o “Friends of Kaala Farms Cultural Learning Center.”

There are still unanswered questions about the origin of the fire, the explosions that many Lualualei residents saw and heard during the fire, the disaster safety plan for ordnance accidents, or the slow fire response from the Navy.   This also raises questions about what kinds of munitions are being stored in Lualualei and when and how the Navy will leave Lualualei. The naval magazine has been all but inactive when most of the munitions were moved to the West Loch branch near the Pearl Harbor Naval Station.  Long ago, he navy tapped the source of Pūhāwai stream and diverted the water to the base, leaving ancient loʻi kalo dry.  If those areas had been in cultivation, like at Kaʻala Farm, the fire would not have been able to spread into some of the areas where it did.

Around ten years ago, when the base was originally slated for possible closure (prior to 9/11 build up madness), a group of us led by Vince Dodge hiked in to inspect different sites. We hiked to the source of the Pūhāwai stream and saw the dry loʻi beds as well as the massive pipe that diverted millions of gallons of water from the natural stream flow. Since the naval base was underutilized even then, the water was spilling out of the overflow valve onto pavement.  It was not even placed back into the stream a few yards away.

When we inspected the stream beds we saw that there were traces of water percolating  up but not enough to flow.  The dream then as now is to restore the sites to productivity.

But whose vision will drive the conversion of Lualualei valley from military to civilian use?   Will it be the developers who wish to create industrial parks, subdivisions and highways in agricultural lands, including a new tunnel and road through Pōhākea pass?  Will it be the Navy planners who have gotten into the real estate business by “disposing” of excess military land on the real estate market through  sale or lease for profit?  Or will it be the residents and traditional practitioners of Waiʻanae who wish to restore ancient wisdom of land stewardship and sustainable practices?   That chapter is yet to be written.

Wildfire that began in Lualualei naval base burns for third day, damage to cultural center and explosions reported

June 6, 2012 

The wildfire in Waiʻanae continues to burn.  The Honolulu Star Advertiser reports:

Fire crews were busy in Waianae Valley this morning as Oahu’s largest wildfire of the year burned for a third day.

At least one Marine Corps CH-53 helicopter was to rejoin the Honolulu Fire Department’s air operations this morning, the Navy said.

Nine people took refugee in a Red Cross Shelter at Waianae District Park Tuesday night.

The flames are burning on two fronts — along the back of Waianae Valley into the forest reserve and another on the side of the ridge closer to Waianae Valley Road.

Firefighters were responding to brush fire calls on both sides of Waianae Valley. One flare-up was reported near Kamaile street on the Makaha side of the valley, a valley resident said.

Since Monday, the blaze has destroyed nearly 1,200 acres of brush in both Waianae and Lualualei Valleys.

According to the paper, “the fire began on government property near the Lualualei Naval Magazine at 1 p.m. Monday.”

It spread to the neighboring Waiʻanae valley and destroyed the traditional hale pili (thatched structure) at the Learning Center at Kaʻala, one of our partners in the Waiʻanae Environmental Justice Working Group:

Butch DeTroy, manager of the Kaala Farms Cultural Learning Center on Waianae Valley Road, said the wildfire destroyed an A-frame grass hale Tuesday that had been used as a classroom for up to 60 students.

The fire also destroyed half of a two-mile pipeline that supplies water to Kaala Farms taro fields on its 98-acre property.

DeTroy said he was forced to leave area Tuesday morning before the fire swept through his property.

Firefighters were able to save a kitchen facility, but the grass hale, which was 30 feet high, was destroyed.

DeTroy said a stream that borders the Waianae Kai Forest Reserve probably prevented the fire from creeping down the moutain into the nature preserve — home to native koa, sandalwood and aalii.

But the newspaper failed to report on the explosions.   Gary Forth of MAʻO organic farm and environmental activist Carroll Cox reported witnessing explosions on the Lualualei Naval Base.   Lucy Gay of the Leeward Community College Waiʻanae extension wanted to know, where is the Navyʻs disaster plan for such dangerous materials? And if there are disaster safety plans, why wasn’t the community apprised of them?



Army monitoring Kolekole Pass wildfire

October 16, 2010

Army monitoring Kolekole Pass wildfire

By Star-Advertiser Staff

POSTED: 03:39 p.m. HST, Oct 15, 2010

Army firefighters are allowing a wildfire to burn on several ranges near Kolekole Pass.

The fire began about 6:15 p.m. Wednesday at Range KR8 and is not threatening any facilities at this time, the U.S. Army Garrison said.

Army firefighters are monitoring it and still have not determined a cause.

The 300- to 400-acre fire is burning in an area that was scheduled for a prescribed burn in November, so officials are letting the fire burn out on its own.

Fire ruins special forces mini submarine

November 11, 2008 

A six-hour blaze damaged a special-warfare minisub Sunday

Navy to start probe of sub fire

By Gregg K. Kakesako

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 11, 2008

The Navy will begin investigating today a battery fire that damaged the nation’s only special-warfare minisub, a costly and problem-plagued stealth boat that was getting a recharge at Pearl Harbor’s 22-acre SEAL facility on Waipio Peninsula.

Advanced SEAL Delivery System minisub

» In service: 1 (Pearl Harbor)

» Length: 65 feet

» Weight: 60 tons

» Crew: Pilot, submarine officer; co-pilot, SEAL officer

» Payload: Up to 16 SEALs

» Mission: Clandestine infiltration

» Range: Classified (at least 115 miles on a battery charge; can dive as deep as 200 feet)

» Transported: Piggyback on the deck of a nuclear attack submarine

Source: U.S. Navy

The Navy has not yet determined the cause of the fire or the extent of damage.

The black, 65-foot Advanced SEAL Delivery System minisub was undergoing routine maintenance in its shore-based facility at 8:30 p.m. Sunday when Navy personnel monitoring the battery recharging process noticed sparks and flames coming from near some of the battery compartments, officials said.

The building was immediately evacuated, and seven trucks and 25 federal firefighters responded but it took six hours to extinguish the fire and cool any remaining hot spots in the battery compartment, the Navy reported yesterday.

A investigation, led by the Naval Special Warfare Command and supported by experts from Naval Sea Systems Command and the Navy Safety Center, was expected to begin today.

The battery-powered minisub, designed to ride piggyback on an attack sub to within range of a hostile coast or other target, has been part of a troubled program that began in 1992. The vessel was delivered to the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command in 2001 and assigned to Pearl Harbor’s SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 in 2003.

There were initial problems with its propeller system, then problems with the electrical system and batteries.

A 2003 General Accounting Office report said the electrical system repeatedly shorted out and drained its silver-zinc batteries more quickly than the Navy projected. The zinc batteries were replaced with lithium-ion batteries.

The GAO report said the program, which initially called for six vessels, was to cost $527 million but rose to more than $2 billion.

Defense Industry Daily reported in April that “technical, reliability, and 400 percent cost overrun issues proved nearly insuperable.” Plans for six subs were halted in 2006, and the remaining ongoing effort was directed “to boost the performance of the existing sub and complete its operational testing,” the publication said.

The cigar-shaped minisub, which weighs 60 tons, is big enough to accommodate 16 SEALs, including two operators.