HILO, Hawaii -- A wildfire smoldering along the Big Island of Hawaii exploded in size Wednesday night amid "high winds (that) whipped it into a frenzy," according to fire officials.
The Leilani Fire, burning west of Daniel K. Inouye Highway near the Pohakuloa Training Area, was estimated at 9,800 acres and growing by Thursday afternoon, ballooning from just a 700-acre fire earlier Wednesday.
Officials with Hawaii's Division of Forestry and Wildlife say the fire likely began weeks ago in the training area but had lay dormant with no smoke visible until high winds hit that part of the island this week. Now firefighters from several federal, state and local agencies are preparing for a "prolonged, intense firefight."
There were 33 firefighters working with bulldozer crews Thursday to build a fire around the perimeter as two U.S. Army helicopters dumped water on the fire from overhead. Three more helicopters were heading to the scene later Thursday to join the fire fight.
"This is an all-hands effort," Steve Bergfeld, the DOFAW Hawai‘i Island Branch Manager, said in an update posted on social media. "We’re watching the winds this afternoon, send towering columns of smoke into the air."
A Fire Weather Watch was in effect for Wednesday and Thursday for much of the Hawaiian Islands due to dry and windy conditions, but winds eased Friday.
So far, the fire is not threatening any homes and may eventually be contained by lava flows, officials said.
"It’s tricky," DOFAW protection forester Don Yokoyama said in the media update, "because right now the winds are causing it to burn in three different directions."