- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - Pahoa residents holding signs and blocking contractors halted a plan to cut down monkey pod trees that fire officials say is necessary to respond to approaching lava.

Fire department officials want to cut down three trees near the Pahoa Senior Center to make room for fire trucks in the event lava crosses Highway 130.

Resident Toby Hazel, who alerted her friends about the plan to remove the trees, told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald (https://ow.ly/COw14 ) that workers packed up their chain saws and left Monday after seeing 20 residents around the trees.

“We asked them (the fire department) to help us (concerning the lava), not invade our town and change our lives,” she said.

Another Pahoa resident, Gred Rudd, said he doesn’t understand the reason for removing the trees: “Why do they want to cut down these beautiful monkey pod trees?”

It’s necessary to cut down the trees to make room for two fire trucks, an ambulance and a tanker truck that need to be ready to quickly respond to the lava, Deputy Fire Chief Renwick Victorino said.

Falling branches damaging equipment is also a concern, he said.

“We need to make sure those apparatuses don’t get damaged,” Victorino said. “We can’t park the apparatuses in the bay because we need to install an exhaust system before we’re allowed to do so, and with the lava about to inundate Highway 130, that won’t give us enough time. It’s required for the safety of the firefighters.”

The county plans to move forward with the removal of the trees, Parks and Recreation Director Clayton Honma said. The trees will later be replaced with native ones, he said.

Residents plan to bring up the issue at a lava community meeting Thursday. Hazel said she is planning to organize a petition.

Victorino said he understands the community’s concerns. “The trees are important, but our safety comes first,” he said.

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Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, https://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/

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