UPDATE: Highway 11 Closure Extended Five Miles
***Updated at 5 p.m. to reflect extended closure.***
Police late this afternoon closed Highway 11 between the 46-mile marker and Kamani Street, the main road into Pahala, because of the continuing threat from a wildfire that began Monday.
Police earlier in the day had closed the highway at just the 49-mile marker.
The fire, which as of this afternoon had blackened approximately 1,900 acres, is one of two blazes being fought by Hawaii County and volunteer firefighters in the Pahala area.
Assistant Fire Chief Aaron Arbles said about 400 acres had been burned by the mauka fire located about two miles above the highway along a cane-haul road. Three fire units had it about 60% contained early this afternoon.
The other fire, which is located just below the highway and which prompted the road closure, was only 40% contained, Arbles said. Four fire units were battling that blaze.
All told, 29 personnel, three bulldozers and one of the fire department’s two helicopters were being used to fight the two fires.
The lower fire, which started in a macadamia nut orchard, prompted the closing Monday of Ka‘u Hospital and the evacuation of about 15 long-term patients to the Na‘alehu Community Center.
At one point the fire got to within about 100 yards of the highway, which is about 75 yards from the hospital.
Arbles said it was unclear when patients would be able to return to the hospital at Pahala as strong winds have left it covered in black soot.
“It’s going to be time-consuming,” he said of the cleaning effort required to reopen the hospital.