Kawaihae, HI - Due to a brushfire that engulfed more than 4,650 acres in the Kawaihae area over the weekend, Pu'ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site remains closed Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 10 and 11. The park could open as early as Wednesday, once firefighters finish extinguishing smoldering hot spots in the park, and park archeologists assess any damage to cultural sites.
Pu'ukoholā Heiau, the massive stone temple where King Kamehameha the Great launched his successful quest to unite the Hawaiian Islands in 1810, did not sustain any damage in the fire, nor did the older Mailekini Heiau below it. The homestead site of British sailor John Young, who served as King Kamehameha's advisor, also appears unscathed.
The brushfire, exacerbated by strong winds and dry, hot weather, came within a few feet of the visitor center and park headquarters on Saturday, but was put out by firefighters before it reached the buildings. Although both facilities are without phone service and internet, the visitor center has water and electricity.
"We are incredibly grateful to all the agencies and volunteers who banded together to fight this fire," said Park Superintendent Daniel Kawaiaea. "Thankfully, there were no injuries to visitors or park staff. We also appreciate the kokua from our sister parks, Pu'uhonua o Hōnauanua National Historical Park, Alakahakai National Historic Trail, and Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, who are assisting by providing resources and staff," he said.
The fire burned about 90 percent of the vegetation on the park's 80 acres, and melted temporary solar light fixtures along its main path. Large blackened swaths of ground, once covered in plants, is now exposed throughout the park. The vegetation was a mix of non-native grasses and shrubs, and native species like pili grass, pua kala (Hawaiian poppy) and ma'o (Hawaii cotton).
Superintendent Kawaiaea said a decision whether the park will hold or cancel the 43rd annual Ho'oku'ikahi Establishment Day Hawaiian Cultural Festival, scheduled for this weekend, Aug. 15 and 16, will be made by Tuesday.
"Our biggest concern at this point is the safety for the public, our employees and the festival participants," Kawaiaea said. "In addition to the fire damage, there is also a tropical storm expected to impact us later this week."