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car with hood up
Smoke billowed from the vehicle as the visitors drove up to Maunakea.

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship (CMS) staff are being commended for quickly responding to a vehicle fire that broke out at the Maunakea Visitor Information Station (VIS). Two visitors vacationing in Hawaiʻi ran into trouble on December 23 when their rental vehicle overheated on the drive up to Maunakea and partially caught fire within minutes of reaching the VIS parking lot.

car with hood up
Quick action by CMS staff prevented the incident from impacting bystanders and property.

VIS staff Krystal Schlechter, Ryder Marote and Adrienne Todd-Walten quickly obtained fire extinguishers and called 9-1-1. Maunakea Ranger Oscar Pouoa also responded and helped put out the fire from under the hood before it became a bigger risk to bystanders and the building nearby. Fire personnel from the U.S. Army Pohakuloa Training Center were dispatched and were on scene within 20 minutes. No one was injured.

“We are still not sure what may have led to this vehicle overheating,” said Pouoa. “We urge visitors to ensure their vehicles are serviced and in good running order prior to making what can be a dangerous drive to Maunakea.”

Snow attracts the masses

The Maunakea Rangers and CMS staff were especially busy through the Christmas holiday weekend. A powerful storm dumped heavy snow over Maunakea and attracted thousands to the mauna. From December 24–26 more than a thousand people a day headed up to enjoy the snow-cloaked summit.

snow on Maunakea
A strong storm dumped heavy snow and left behind thick ice coating the road to the summit. Rangers kept the road closed for several days as CMS crews worked day and night to clear it.

All vehicles are required to stop at the mid-level check point where Rangers conduct inspections to ensure they are equipped with 4-wheel drive and drivers know how to use proper gears. All drivers are briefed on the importance of using low gear upon descent from the summit to avoid brake overheating. Rangers also confirm each vehicle has enough gas for the trip to and from the summit because there is no gas available.

“Our purpose is to help ensure everyone is safe and well while visiting Maunakea,” Pouoa said. “We urge the public to adhere to all precautions given by our Maunakea Rangers which are in place to protect all visitors and the resources on the mauna.”

The Rangers are reminding visitors that small children under the age of 13 do not do well at high altitudes and pets are not allowed up to the summit.

Emergency services may be up to two hours away from the summit area because of the mountain’s remote location. Cell phone coverage is unreliable, and there is one public emergency phone on the summit.

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 the most revered places in Hawaiʻi, and many visit the mauna for cultural and religious practices.

The public is asked to remember that the summit of Maunakea can be extremely dangerous. The weather can change rapidly, resulting in severe conditions including freezing temperatures, blizzards and high winds. If Rangers deem conditions unsafe, they can close the road without notice.

Visitors are encouraged to check the current status of the road online before heading up.

More health and safety information can be found online.

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