SOUTH POINT, Hawaii — A wildfire broke out in the remote South Point area of the Big Island at approximately 8:30 p.m. Saturday night, and had burned more than 3,000 acres by midday Sunday.

Hawaii County fire officials said it was still not under control by late afternoon. There have been no fatalities and no structures have burned.

The fire is thought to have started near the coastline, although the exact cause has not been determined.

In recent weeks residents have raised concerns about the large groups of people coming to South Point in time of high fire danger, especially since Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim has ordered all county beach parks closed as part of the overall COVID-19 prevention strategy.

Since South Point is managed by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, it is not subject to county regulations suspending gatherings on the coastline.

The area has been under a red flag warning, and over the Labor Day weekend contingents of concerned residents  intercepted cars on South Point Road to ask them to turn back and avoid the area due to the fire danger. But groups of visitors continue coming to South Point, including as many as 20 groups of overnight campers on some nights.

Hawaii County fire crews were working to contain a major wildlands fire near South Point over the weekend. Peter Serafin/Civil Beat/2020

When the fire broke out Saturday many of these illegal campers packed up and left, but fire officials have not determined that any of them started the blaze.

“At this point, we just don’t know what caused this fire,” said Hawaii County Fire Captain Chris Carvalho.

Carvalho, who had been on the scene all night, said that 19 Hawaii County firefighters responded, aided by additional personnel from the Na’alehu and Discovery Harbor volunteer fire departments.

As of Sunday morning the fire was making its way up the mountain, aided not only by the dry conditions, but by the area’s strong, constant winds (South Point has been a prime location for commercial wind farms).

Currently, the only piece of equipment actively fighting the fire is a single helicopter dropping buckets of water from a makeshift pool filled by a pumper truck. Fire trucks are standing by until the fire reaches a location they can get to.

In the meantime, some ranchers have been cutting barbed wire fences so their cattle will not be trapped as the fire advances. Others are loading horses onto trailers and taken them to safety. Carvalho also said that some ranchers are using their own 300-gallon tanks of water/foam solution to combat the fire.

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