South Kohala CDP Action Committee Presentation

Pablo Beimler pointing to a map of wildfire hazards in Northwest Hawaiʻi Island during the CDP presentation. Credit - David Tarnas

Pablo Beimler pointing to a map of wildfire hazards in Northwest Hawaiʻi Island during the CDP presentation. Credit - David Tarnas

On July 24, HWMO gave a presentation at the South Kohala Community Development Plan Action Committee meeting at the Waimea Senior Center. A Community Development Plan, CDP for short, provides an opportunity for community input for establishing County policies that can then be put into action. Wildfire is featured in the South Kohala CDP, especially considering South Kohala is known for the largest brushfires in the entire state. As a reminder to why wildfire is included in the CDP, we shared to a couple dozen people, including the Action Committee, about the various fire hazards that threaten communities in South Kohala. The threats are not just vegetation and environmental conditions, but also building materials, subdivision-level hazards (such as poor access and ingress/egress), lack of water access, and not enough community engagement. 

Our presentation was preceded by a presentation from our partners from South Kohala Coastal Partnership. Julia Rose, the Marine Coordinator for SKCP, highlighted how wildfires directly impacted our nearshore resources, especially after large post-fire storm events. The Kawaihae fire was a topic of discussion during the meeting. The enormous fire in 2015 charred thousands of acres, but soon thereafter, a large storm dropped heavy rain in the area that led to dangerous flooding, shutting down roads and businesses and forcing evacuations of residents. Planning for fire is necessary to ensure events like these are prevented and we hope to see the CDP continue to integrate wildfire concerns and actions into the planning process, whether from integrating WUI codes and ordinances to finding ways to increase public participation in wildfire solutions.

PFX/HWMO Palehua Wildfire Mitigation Strategies Workshop and Field Tour

Opening circle and prayer to begin the day.

Opening circle and prayer to begin the day.

Pacific Fire Exchange (PFX) and HWMO linked up on July 17 to hold an exciting day of fun and learning in Palehua, just mauka of Makakilo on Oʻahu. PFX’s Clay Trauernicht, Melissa Kunz, and Elizabeth Pickett spent several weeks planning this wildfire mitigation strategies workshop that led into a field tour as a follow-up to a workshop they put on at the PICCC conference several months ago. HMMO’s Pablo Beimler also joined the workshop as a helping hand. The Palehua workshop was tied into the Hawaiʻi Conservation Conference as a pre-conference event that interested conservationists could attend. Thirty or so people from various agencies and organizations including National Park Service, Honolulu Fire Department, Fed Fire, DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and University of Hawaiʻi joined the event. 

The day kicked off with a workshop at Palehua Camp, formerly Camp Timberline, amongst tall trees and with scenic views of the Ewa area below. Clay Trauernicht gave a brief presentation on fire science using data he was synthesizing from the HWMO fire history database. Some interesting new factoids included:

* 75% of fires in Hawaiʻi are accidental

* 75% of fires in Hawaiʻi occur under drought conditions

* Over 80% of areas burned in Hawaiʻi are grassland/shrubland areas

Clay also shared about values at risk and their vulnerabilities. He adapted an equation he learned from a recent climate adaptation workshop, to fit into the fire science framework:

Vulnerability = exposure (fire hazards) + resource sensitivity (sensitivity to fire) — adaptive capacity (wildfire mitigation)

Elizabeth followed Clay’s presentation by highlighting various mitigation strategies. With these presentations in mind, the participants broke into groups for a computer-based activity. The groups picked a “designated mouse driver” and dug into the wildfire hazards and values at risk in Palehua using Google Earth. Once they determined areas of concern and the hazards that threatened those areas, they determined mitigation strategies they could apply to the area to reduce the fire hazard. They then shared their findings with the rest of the workshop participants. Anu and McD, two men who knew Palehua on the back of their hands, blessed us with examples of mitigation strategies they had actually implemented or planned to implement in the area. 

Breaking out into groups to discuss wildfire mitigation strategies for Palehua.

Breaking out into groups to discuss wildfire mitigation strategies for Palehua.

Scanning through Google Earth to determine areas of concern and wildfire hazards in Palehua.

Scanning through Google Earth to determine areas of concern and wildfire hazards in Palehua.

The workshop then shifted into a field tour as participants hopped into vans for the afternoon. The first stop was an overlook area where one could see where the 2014 Makakilo fire started and took off. The fire was an intense one that killed over 200 wiliwili trees and charred several homes. Mikiʻala Akiona, Public Education Specialist for Honolulu Fire Department, noted how difficult the fire was to suppress due to the many hot spots and restarts that occurred. The group then stopped towards the top of Palehua at a ranch-style building called Hokuloa, which had been used as a staging area and command center for large fires. Participants learned about the importance of having the right fittings for water tanks (as well as the need for suction hoses) and for creating fuelbreaks horizontal to the slope. Throughout this discussion, the participants had a spectacular view of central Oʻahu, which became increasingly obscured by a large rain cloud headed their way. 

Looking out over the area where the Makakilo 2014 fire started.

Looking out over the area where the Makakilo 2014 fire started.

Group photo in front of Nānakuli backdrop.

Group photo in front of Nānakuli backdrop.

Rain cloud headed towards the group while looking towards Kunia.

Rain cloud headed towards the group while looking towards Kunia.

Back of Nānakuli Valley where remnant native forests still exist.

Back of Nānakuli Valley where remnant native forests still exist.

The group then traveled up to a cabin for views of the north side of Palehua, where the discussion turned its focus toward the 2016 Nānakuli Fire that threatened homes and resources such as communication towers. The final stop added a little bit of adventure to the day. The participants hiked up to the top of Mauna Kapu through bamboo forests, stopping for a chant led by Anu before reaching the sacred peak. Once atop the mauna, Gary Gill, a large landowner in the area, gave background on how special the place they were surrounded by was. The area used to have one of the highest concentrations of native tree snails, but the population had been steadily declining within the last couple of years. There were several populations of different varieties of native birds still calling the area their home. Previous fires had burned ʻiliahi forests in the back of Nānakuli Valley, but about half of them had recovered, although they were much more stunted in growth than before. 

The workshop and field tour was a memorable one for us all and we hope that the valuable lessons and conversations that took place were of value for all of the participants. Mahalo to all who came out for a special day in Palehua.  

PFX-HWMO Wildfire Mitigation Strategies Workshop and Field Tour of Palehua 7/17/17

Parker Ranch 4th of July Rodeo 2017

Melissa Kunz of HWMO talking to visitors about the upcoming Firefighter Chili Cook-Off.

Melissa Kunz of HWMO talking to visitors about the upcoming Firefighter Chili Cook-Off.

August 26 is just around the corner. What’s so special about that date? HWMO is having its first major fundraiser that day. Save the date!

The Firefighter Chili Cook-Off will showcase four teams of local firefighters who will go face-to-face in a chili competition judged by none other than Sam Choy, one of the founders of Pacific rim cuisine. There will, however, also be a people’s choice award winner. That’s where you come in! Come join us for a barn-good time by trying the different chili recipes using local ingredients from the island. The event’s very first sponsor was Parker Ranch, a long-time friend of the organization. 

HWMO Firefighter Chili Cook-Off.compressed.jpg

Parker Ranch was gracious enough to not only provide a beautiful space for the event, but they also let us have a booth right near the grandstands for the extremely popular 4th of July Rodeo and Horse Races event. HWMO’s team set-up a booth to sell tickets for the event, while also distributing hundreds of invites to visitors. The Chili Cook-Off was also announced several times on the PA for the hundreds of visitors to hear.

We hope you can join us for the Firefighter Chili Cook-Off. Tickets are available now — don’t miss out!

Mahalo nui loa, Parker Ranch!

Parker Ranch 4th of July Rodeo 7/4/17

Ready Set Go! Workshop with HFD New Recruits

Pablo Beimler presenting to HFD recruits back in November 2016.

Pablo Beimler presenting to HFD recruits back in November 2016.

HWMO fills a niche even in training firefighters on wildfire prevention and mitigation strategies. On June 30, HWMO’s Pablo Beimler gave a presentation to twenty-or-so new Hawaiʻi Fire Department recruits. Pablo began by playing a video we produced last year on how wildfires impact our coastlines (watch below). Following the video, he dove into the various programs that HWMO used to teach residents and large landowners about wildfire prevention and protection: Ready, Set, Go!, Firewise Communities, and Wildfire Lookout! We thank Captain Bill Bergin and the rest of HFD for the opportunity to speak to a new class of brave firefighters. 

Ocean Warriors Wildfire Lessons and Activities at Spencer Beach

Ocean Warriors learning about Rapid ʻOhia Death and how they can prevent the spread.

Ocean Warriors learning about Rapid ʻOhia Death and how they can prevent the spread.

Learning the fire cycle is key to understanding the bigger picture of how wildfire changes our landscapes. When a wildfire burns a native forest in Hawaiʻi, the forest does not fully recover. Instead, invasive grasses, shrubs, and trees take over and crowd out native species. These invasive plants tend to be wildfire hazards and actually encourage fire to help them reproduce. The next human-caused fire will burn these plants and burn further into the forest. And thus, the cycle continues.

Ocean Warrior scanning area for clues to previous fires, including charred tree stumps.

Ocean Warrior scanning area for clues to previous fires, including charred tree stumps.

HWMO demonstrated this concept through a fun, interactive game with the Malama Kai Ocean Warriors program run by HWMO’s very own Elizabeth Pickett. The youth stewardship program linked with us on June 13 as a group of middle schoolers from Kohala met with us at Spencer Beach in Kawaihae. By playing a game of “fire tag,” similar to “red rover,” the students acted out how the fire cycle impacts our natural resources. After playing the game, we took the students on a short walk along the Ala Kahakai Trail towards Mauʻumae Beach. This stretch of trail had burned numerous times in recent years, with less and less native plants to burn each time. We encouraged the students to look for clues that indicate that fires had burned the coastline. In the end, the students were able to look at a familiar area with a different set of lenses, or what we like to call “fire goggles.”

Ocean Warriors Wildfire Lessons and Activities at Spencer Beach 6/13/17

Hawaiʻi Environmental Education Symposium 2017

Elizabeth Pickett shares lessons learned from the youth stewardship program she runs called Ocean Warriors.

Elizabeth Pickett shares lessons learned from the youth stewardship program she runs called Ocean Warriors.

Much of what HWMO does falls under the category of “environmental education.” Talking about wildfire prevention requires making the connection that our built environment is intertwined with the natural world. From June 8 through 10, the Hawaiʻi Environmental Education Alliance hosted a symposium for it’s sixth year to gather environmental educators from across the state. HWMO attended the symposium, which was held at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park Kilauea Military Camp, on June 9. The theme this year was climate change, a topic that has numerous intersections with wildfires in Hawaiʻi. 

The day began with a sobering, yet very informative talk from Dr. Chip Fletcher, a scientist from UH Mānoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. His talk gave insight on a multitude of factual examples of how climate change has already taken Hawaiʻi by storm, no pun intended. Of those many examples, increased drought and shifts in vegetative cover were highlighted, conditions that will continue to increase wildfire risk statewide. Throughout the rest of the day, various educators shared examples of how they had used climate change as a framework to teach valuable lessons about the environment. Elizabeth Pickett, HWMO’s Executive Director, is not only a wildfire educator, but she is also youth environmental stewardship educator through the Malama Kai Foundation Ocean Warrior’s program. Elizabeth gave a presentation about the program and shared lessons learned on how to best encourage youth to become environmental leaders in their community.

HWMO’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Pablo Beimler, also gave a presentation on behalf of Hawaii Wildfire. His presentation highlighted various youth products that HWMO has produced for educators including our very own K-8th grade curriculum, kNOw Fire. Several educators from across the state were on hand for the presentation, some of whom enthusiastically expressed that they were willing to integrate the curriculum into their own work. 

HEEA Symposium on Climate Change 6/9/17

Hawaiʻi Kai Community Safety Town Hall Meeting

Packed house for the Hawaiʻi Kai Community Safety Town Hall Meeting on June 6, 2017.

Packed house for the Hawaiʻi Kai Community Safety Town Hall Meeting on June 6, 2017.

Cameron Sato (left), Office of Senator Stanley Chang, and Pablo Beimler (right), HWMO in front of Kamilonui Valley burn scar.

Cameron Sato (left), Office of Senator Stanley Chang, and Pablo Beimler (right), HWMO in front of Kamilonui Valley burn scar.

As part of a double-header of community safety events in Hawaiʻi Kai, Representative Gene Ward, Senator Stanley Chang, Councilmember Trevor Ozawa, and Senator Laura Thielen again teamed up, this time to hold a public safety town hall meeting on June 6. Just the night before, HWMO gave a workshop on wildfire readiness to fifty or so community members. At the June 6 meeting, seventy-five people were in attendance to hear updates from Honolulu Fire Department, Honolulu Police Department, and HWMO.

Several community members also voiced their concerns about what they felt were safety issues in their community. After the meeting, we spoke with a number of community members regarding specific fire safety concerns in the area. HWMO will be following up in Hawaiʻi Kai with additional support for Firewise Communities certification and hopefully soon, a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. Big mahalo to Senators Chang and Thielen, Representative Ward, and Councilmember Ozawa for having us be speakers at the two meetings and to HFD, HPD, and DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife for their added support.

Hawaiʻi Kai Wildfire Safety Workshop

From left to right: Senator Laura Thielen, Captain David Jenkins (Honolulu FD), Cameron Sato (Senator Chang's Office), Kalama Pastor (Kamehameha Schools), Councilmember Trevor Ozawa, Senator Stanley Chang, Pablo Beimler (HWMO), Elizabeth Pickett (HWMO)

From left to right: Senator Laura Thielen, Captain David Jenkins (Honolulu FD), Cameron Sato (Senator Chang's Office), Kalama Pastor (Kamehameha Schools), Councilmember Trevor Ozawa, Senator Stanley Chang, Pablo Beimler (HWMO), Elizabeth Pickett (HWMO)

Hawaiʻi Kai residents have been on edge since the beginning of the year — over a dozen fires have been started near communities, one of which became a high-profile burn in Kamilonui Valley. Although most have been deemed suspicious by authorities, accidents can also happen (around 75% of brushfires in Hawaiʻi are accidental ignitions). With fire on the minds of so many residents, Senator Stanley Chang, Representative Gene Ward, Councilmember Trevor Ozawa, and Senator Laura Thielen worked across party lines to hold a Wildfire Safety Workshop on June 5 at Kamiloiki Elementary School.

HWMO had the honor of presenting an hour-long workshop highlighting wildfire readiness recommendations based on the Ready Set Go! and Wildfire Lookout! programs. We also worked to recruit people interested in being a part of Firewise Communities certification efforts. Our hope is that the fifty or so people who came out to the event will take action around their homes right away to create defensible space — but our even greater hope is that the community will start to come together for the larger goal of becoming a Firewise Community (or a couple of them).

Hawaii Kai Wildfire Safety Workshop 6/5/17

Waiʻanae Coast Disaster Readiness Fair 2017

Waiʻanae Coast Disaster Readiness Fair booths.

Waiʻanae Coast Disaster Readiness Fair booths.

HWMO was invited by Waiʻanae Coast Disaster Preparedness Team to set-up an outreach booth at this year’s Waiʻanae Coast Disaster Readiness Fair at the Waiʻanae Mall. The June 3rd event hosted a variety of different wildfire readiness organizations, some of whom also held workshops. We spoke to many different residents from across the Waiʻanae region and handed out Ready Set Go!, Wildfire Lookout!, and Firewise Communities materials to educate people on wildfire readiness. Some visitors also shared their close encounters with wildfires.

Throughout the day, strong trade winds kept us all on high alert, not only because fire danger is greater when they are blowing, but also because our handouts and outreach materials were at risk of blowing away. Indeed, at the tail end of the event, our tent was no match for the winds and tipped over, knocking out flyers over. Thankfully, emergency responders were all over the place and were quick to collect the materials speedily and in coordinated fashion. A small testament to why we love being a part of the emergency management field!

Waianae Coast Disaster Readiness Fair 6/3/17

Wildfire Preparedness Month ʻOhana Day at Kipuka Oweowe

Preparing plants and field equipment for a day of planting and wildfire discussion at Kipuka Oweowe in Puʻuwaʻawaʻa.

Preparing plants and field equipment for a day of planting and wildfire discussion at Kipuka Oweowe in Puʻuwaʻawaʻa.

To wrap up a busy May of wildfire readiness events, DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife’s Nāpuʻu Conservation Project held an official Wildfire Preparedness Month event at Kīpuka Oweowe in Puʻuwaʻawaʻa. Each month, Nāpuʻu holds an ʻOhana Day, inviting volunteers to come plant a variety of native species, common and rare/endangered, in the lama-dominated forest restoration project.

This month’s ʻOhana Day was wrapped into Wildfire Preparedness Month. HWMO’s Pablo Beimler joined volunteers in the morning by helping plant natives in the beautiful, peaceful forest setting. As part of a potluck lunch, Pablo then shared background on the history of wildfires and fire management in the Puʻuwaʻawaʻa region. Others talked story about their experiences with fire in the area. It was great to spend time in the forest with good people who were all forest stewards and truly embodied Mālama ʻĀina. They also walked away with more knowledge on wildfires and fire preparedness, as well as Wildfire Lookout! and Ready Set Go! materials.

We thank everyone who participated in a fun and successful Wildfire Preparedness Month this May!

Wildfire Prep Month Ohana Day at Kipuka Oweowe 5/27/17