Unusually high winds and fast-burning trees are making it almost impossible for firefighters to contain the wildfires that are running rampant on Lanai. For the past 3 days, the fires have burned despite the best efforts of officials and first responders, covering the island with smoke, ash, and soot. Now, with the fire only 30% contained, many worry that strong winds may carry embers across the Auʻau Channel to the Lahaina area. While such an event would put fragile parts of the preservation zone in jeopardy, losing trees in the protected area isn’t the biggest concern. Many are worried about Veilcorp warehouses filled with the volatile element 127.
Plumes of smoke and ash have bellowed from the rampaging fire over the weekend. Stretching from Paliakoe Gulch to Kahinahina Ridge, the fire has destroyed over 500 acres of woodlands and is spreading slowly East. While few homes have been damaged in the sparsely inhabited areas of Lanai, the flames and smoke can be seen across the channel from Lahaina, raising concerns over the safety of 127 stockpiles stored on the island.
Veilcorp COO Lisa Hunt says that she understands the concern, but says the public is safe, sighting government regulations about the storage of 127 and strict company guidelines. “We actually go above and beyond what we’re required to do. Many of us live in the Lahaina area too, and I assure you that safety is first and foremost on our minds,” Hunt says.
“The Maui Conservation and Recovery Act put strict rules in place regarding the storage of 127, as well as limits on the amount of the element stored in one place. While those regulations are enough to guarantee the safety of all, we take extra steps to protect against worst-case scenarios. Virtually all the 127 stored on the island currently is in secure underground storage facilities. These warehouses can protect against flood, fire, earthquake, and even a missile attack. They’re designed to last through an apocalypse; there’s no safer place on Earth. If the fires do somehow spread to Maui, the 127 we have stored here won’t be a concern”
However, not everyone is convinced. Kimberly Hekili, Lahaina Conservation Association (LCA) spokesperson says that there is no safe way to store 127. According to her, “Veilcorp has always thumbed its nose at regulations and done what it considers best for its bottom line. These so-called secure warehouses have not been tested in any meaningful way, and we still don’t fully understand the many dangers offered by 127. Anytime the wind has changed in the past few days the emergency sirens along the Honoapiilani Highway have sounded. It’s obvious that the government knows something that they don’t want the public to know. We recommend that the public do what they can to ensure their safety without counting on help or honesty from their elected officials.”
Mayor Cravalho’s calls Hekili’s statements, “reckless, unhelpful, and bordering on the paranoid.” He says the entire Lahaina Fire Department is keeping a close eye on the situation on Lanai. He adds, “I’m proud to say that the LFD has some of the most highly trained emergency specialists anywhere in the world. They have been trained in the safe handling of 127, and in recognizing 127 enhanced fires. They are more than capable of handling any situation, and I’m confident in their capabilities.” In addition, numerous citizen groups have been organized by his office to patrol areas of the preservation zone looking for any airborne embers. “In the highly unlikely event that something does cross the channel from Lanai, I’m confident that we’ll be able to deal with it before any lasting damage is done.”
Local reality TV and streaming star Randy Wilcox, is heading up one of the volunteer patrols, and says that Lahaina residents can sleep well knowing that groups like his are working around the clock. “First and foremost I want the public to know that Randy and the Extinguishers are doing everything we can to raise their spirits and watch for fires. If there’s anyone on the island who knows just how out-of-hand a fire or explosion can get, it’s me! The mayor was nice enough to lend us a fleet of the public Manimal ATVs for as long as the crisis lasts. They’ve been helpful in covering ground and a great asset for our shows. In addition to guarding the forest, Randy and the Extinguishers have been burning up the beach three times a day, with the greatest display of precision driving and creative stunt work, anywhere on the island. With all the doom and gloom of the past few days we thought the residents could use a few awesome jumps in their day. We try to add a little something different to every show, but the ember patrols cut pretty deep into our planning and practice time. Still, I’m as proud of our near crashes, as I am our flawless flips. We’re providing quality entertainment while we protect our most fragile areas.”