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Large wildfire burning amid drought on Hawaii's Big Island

This photo provided by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources shows a large wildfire in a rural area of Hawaii's Big Island that is not threatening any homes, but high winds and extremely dry conditions are making it difficult for crews to contain the blaze. (Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources via AP)

HONOLULU (AP) — A large wildfire in a rural area of Hawaii’s Big Island is not threatening any homes, but high winds and extremely dry conditions are making it difficult for crews to contain the blaze.

The fire started in the western reaches of the U.S. Army’s Pohakuloa Training Area, which is above the town of Waikoloa and in between the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes.

The fire had burned more than 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) as of Thursday.

Huge wildfires like the one in Hawaii highlight the dangers of climate change-related heat and drought for many communities throughout the U.S. West and other hotspots around the world. But experts say relatively small fires on typically wet, tropical islands in the Pacific are also on the rise, creating a cycle of ecological damage that affects vital and limited resources for millions of residents.

State land officials said the fire actually began several weeks ago and smoldered until strong winds fanned the flames this week.

The area is dominated by shrubs and grasslands that have been dried by persistent drought.

“This fire is very significant and it is taking this entire team of first responders to collectively contain its advances,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Cronin, commander of the U.S. Army Garrison Pohakuloa Training Area, in a statement.

Strong winds have been recorded across the area, some in excess of 30 mph (48 kph).

“The weather conditions are making this fight difficult to slow the advance of the fire, and our combined efforts are working to prevent it from reaching or crossing Highway 190,” Cronin said.

The fire is now burning on state land and is about a mile away from Highway 190, according to Big Island county officials.

Waikoloa Village, a town of about 7,000 people on the other side of Highway 190, was evacuated last year when the state’s largest-ever wildfire burned more than 70 square miles (181 square kilometers).

Linda Hunt, who works at a horse stable in Waikoloa Village, said she can see the flames from her farm but that winds are currently pushing the fire away from her community.

“We’re about 10, 15 miles down the hill,” she said. “The way the wind is blowing, it’s going to keep blowing towards Kona. Unless we get a change of wind, that’s the only way we’d be affected.”

Federal, state and local firefighters are trying to contain the blaze. Crews are using bulldozers to create a fire break and several helicopters from various agencies are dropping water on the fire.

The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources released video of the blaze Thursday.

A spokesperson for the Army told The Associated Press that while there is active military training in the area, the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

“There are units up there training, I can’t confirm or deny if live fire was taking place,” said Michael O. Donnelly, chief of external communications for the U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii. “It’s business as usual, but the exact cause we don’t know.”

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for fire conditions in the region through Thursday night.