The University of Hawaiʻi Maunakea Rangers responded to a tour van fire about halfway up Maunakea Access Road Tuesday, November 9, near the 13,803-foot summit. The vehicle was engulfed in flames when the rangers arrived after the driver quickly evacuated the eight passengers after smelling smoke. Rangers said the swift action by the driver likely prevented injuries and saved lives as fire burns more rapidly at higher elevations.
“When we arrived on scene, explosions were coming from the vehicle, and our priority was to keep everyone away from harm and make sure that emergency response was called,” said Maunakea Ranger Oscar Pouoa.
The Maunakea Rangers, who are part of the UH Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship (CMS), were the first emergency personnel to arrive on scene, about 5 minutes after the first report. With the assistance of Maunakea Observatory staff, they secured the scene and transported the passengers to the Halepōhaku mid-level facility. A federal fire crew from the Pōhakuloa Training Area Fire, based 12 miles away, arrived 30 minutes later and extinguished the flames. The fire completely destroyed the van, and no other damage was reported in the area.
“This is an important reminder that the mauna can be as dangerous as it is awe inspiring,” said CMS Executive Director Greg Chun. “It’s isolated, we can experience extreme temperatures and conditions, and fire burns faster on the summit. That’s why our rangers are a key part of the Center of Maunakea Stewardship, where we also work hard to build relationships with multiple agencies to ensure coordination when responding to emergencies like this one.”
Chun added that emergency services may be two hours away from the summit area, cell phone coverage is unreliable, and there is only one public emergency phone on the summit.
With winter approaching and anticipated summit traffic typical after a heavy snowfall, CMS is urging visitors to exercise caution when traveling and visiting the summit of Maunakea. Visitors can monitor weather and road conditions online.
Be safe and respectful
Everyone is encouraged to act in a safe and responsible manner while on Maunakea and look out and care for others because of the dangerous conditions. Please be respectful of the fact that Maunakea is one of the most revered places in Hawaiʻi, and many visit the mauna for cultural and religious practices. For everyone’s safety, please heed all directions and precautions from Maunakea Rangers.