Big Island

Kohala Ranch – Minimal Damage from August Brush Fires

Before reporting on the thankfully minimal damage from this weekʻs fires on the Big Islandʻs Kohala Coast, I want to ask readers if you have not already contributed to the Maui Strong fund, please consider donating to support relief efforts in Lāhainā through Hawaiʻi Life Charitable Fund as we are matching your dollars one-for-one. Link at the bottom of this post.

Early Tuesday morning I awoke to text messages from Hawaiʻi County Civil Defense notifying me that Akoni Pule Highway (Highway 270 between Kawaihae and Hawi) was closed from roughly Kohala Estates to a point 10 miles to the north due to brush fires. High winds had also downed trees on Kohala Mountain Road (Highway 250 between Waimea and Hawi/Kapaau), leaving us briefly with no way in or out of North Kohala….and no way for me to get from my home in Hawi to my horsesʻ pasture at the top of Kohala Ranch. I checked in with the family at the Kohala Ranch property and they assured me they could see the glow, but six miles below.

Two horses looking at ocean coastline

My horses at Kohala Ranch looking down the coast towards the resorts and Kailua Kona, not seeming too concerned. The grass stays greener at the 3,000 ft elevation.

By 11 am, the communities of Kohala by the Sea, Kohala Waterfront, Kohala Estates, and Kohala Ranch were being evacuated. My rancher friend across Kohala Mountain Road offered to grab the horses if needed. Then a second rancher friend offered. I decided to wait it out as the wind direction meant the fires were miles downwind. By 6 pm, Civil Defense agreed, lifting the mandatory evacuation for all residents except those in the lower sections of Kohala Ranch. Those residents were not given the all clear, nor Akoni Pule Highway reopened, until 3:15 on Wednesday.

Meanwhile our heroic Hawaii Fire Department was also battling blazes at Lalamilo in Waimea, and then at the Mauna Kea Resort, where hotel guests were sheltering in place and the residential communities of Mauna Kea Fairways North, Fairways South, and Villas at Mauna Kea were evacuated. For two straight days, there were non-stop text, Messenger, WhatsApp and email communications with me checking on friends and clients and vice versa.

Hawaii Fire Department was still on the scene at the Kohala Ranch gatehouse mopping up after two days of successful firefighting

Assessing the Damage from the Fires at Kohala Ranch

Once the evacuation order was lifted, I checked in with clients of mine whose home in the Heathers was near the blazes according to aerial photos available on line. They reported they were fine, and no homes had burned, although some homes makai of theirs had lost substantial landscaping to the fire. This morning after refilling a water trough and tending to my horses, I drove down Kohala Ranch Road to see for myself.

From Kohala Ranch looking down the coastline past Kawaihae harbor, the damage to Mauna Kea Resort and the area to the north of it towards Spencer Beach Park was clearly visible – a big scorched area estimated at 500 acres.

damage from kohala brush fires

Looking to the south from Kohala Ranch, the fire damage at Mauna Kea Resort and adjacent areas north towards Spencer Beach Park looks like a black rectangle of around 500 acres

Prior to the free range cattle being removed from Kohala Ranch, during the summer months those cattle would graze down the dry grasses covering the acreage around built homes, reducing the fire hazard. With no cattle to minimize the fuel source, it was up to the fire department to limit the spread of the fire before it swept up the hillsides. The heat of the fire was so intense it melted fencing around homes closest to the fire line, and scorched landscaping. But not a single home was lost.

fire melted fence from brush fire near kohala ranch homes

Melted white ranch fencing and scorched landscaping shows just how close the fires came to Kohala Ranch homes. You can see how dry the grass gets at the height of summer.

I drove around the Olomana Drive loop where I walked my dog for the 6-1/2 years I was a Kohala Ranch Heathers resident, checking on the two Hawaii Life listings. Both of them are on the south side of Kohala Ranch, away from where the fire was active. It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood, with the sun sparkling on the blue ocean below. 59-316 Olomana Rd is offered for $1,799,000. 59-148 Olomana Rd is offered for $2,450,000.

Speaking of offers… I continue offering gratitude for our firefighters on this island and on Maui for heroic service this week. The recovery and restoration of Lāhainā will take years. Please consider a donation of any amount towards immediate needs for the thousands of Maui residents who have lost homes and possessions, jobs, pets, and even family members this week. Click this link to the blog post where it explains how Hawaiʻi Lifeʻs Charitable Fund and Hawaii Community Foundation are partnering to match donations to Maui Strong.

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