HONOLULU (KHON2) — Debris cleanup is set to begin in Kula this week. Meanwhile, the community is coming together to clear out the gulch that burned tin the Aug. 8 fires.
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Landowners and neighbors said it’s a race against the clock to ensure a fire like that doesnt happen again.
Residents on Kulalani told KHON2 there were so many trees in the gulch before the fire ripped through it that night. The trees were so tall, one resident couldn’t even see the bridge above their house down the road.
Experts said the gulch was once a thriving forest.
“It was once one of the most bio-diverse areas on Haleakala because it was between leeward and windward and it was at a certain elevation where you could start to see forest birds and and all of that,” explained Sara Tekula, Kula Community Watershed Alliance executive director.
Pohaku O Ka La gulch starts at the top of Haleakala, turns into Pulehu gulch in Kula which runs all the way down to North Kihei at Kealia pond.
Over the years, invasive black wattle, a highly invasive weed that absorbs moisture from the soil, has taken over the gulch
“And when you have that much dried out land and that many trees not holding much moisture inside of them, you have a tinderbox of trees that just love to burn and that’s what happened,” explained Tekula.
Some homeowners on Kulalani told KHON2 that clearing the gulch wasn’t high on the to-do list before the fires, but now it is.
“What you’re seeing now is a bunch of disturbed, dehydrated soil that’s been affected by the fire and its completely hydrophobic,” explained Tekula. “We tried pouring water on it, and it won’t go down into the soil, it just sits on top and that happens after a fire.”
She said any kind of rain could lead to runoff and erosion down stream, and homes at the top of the gulch could be at risk for landslides now that the soil isn’t stable.
At least 90 people have joined the Kula Community Watershed Alliance with the hopes of clearing the gulch, stabilizing it, and maintaining it over time.
Tekula said they’re using nearby wood to make woodchips and placing it six inches down into the burned soil.
“The woodchips would allow the water to sink down because right now it’s not sinking down into the soil so this would give a chance for soil to heal and it won’t wash away,” she continued.
Since Oct. 1, the groups has been able to raise about $200,000 to use for items like the wood chipper, but could use help with fences to keep animals like deer from eating their native forest.
The group plans to begin putting woodchips in place on Wednesday.
“The goal is to continue making Kula more fire safe and bringing ecological systems of Kula back into balance,” Tekula said.