National Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy Workshop 2019

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This week HWMO had the privilege of attending the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy Workshop 2019, held in Plymouth Massachusetts. Plymouth (rock) is known as the place where europeans first made their appearance in America, and after attending this extremely educational workshop, it is clear that the ecological history of this area is a very interesting story. Plymouth, and the surrounding area is a fascinating landscape, having been covered with a massive glacier up until about 15,000 years ago. This glacier had a major effect on the geology of the area - grinding rock on ice, developing 700 feet of sand that exists beneath the area today.

Forest that has been recently managed with prescribed fore on the left, and un-managed on the right. can you tell the difference?

Forest that has been recently managed with prescribed fore on the left, and un-managed on the right. can you tell the difference?

The Native American tribes in the area, including the Wampanoag, Mohegan, and the Mohican tribes have a long-standing relationship with fire. George “Chuckie” Green, the Assistant Natural Resources Director with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe shared his deeply rooted knowledge of the area that has been passed down to him through the generations. Many parts of the forest in that landscape burned every single year, as cultural burning led to dramatic benefits to the forest ecosystem. These benefits include thinning of the understory brush throughout the forest allowing more space for grazing and foraging, increased yields on many of the underlying vegetation species, the reduction of flammable fuels so that fires burned less furiously when they did ignite, and increased nitrogen fixation in the soil. It was an incredible lesson to learn that the tribes of the area had been living with fire and using it as a tool for thousands of years. The management of this ecosystem has been devoid of consistent cultural or prescribed fire throughout the past century due to the management techniques adopted among a variety of land management agencies in the US. The United States Fire Department’s motto for nearly every fire of the past century has been to “extinguish it by 10am”, which seemed to be a great fire management motto for a while. Unfortunately, over time this has resulted in wildfires that are completely unmanageable due to the increase in amount of “fuel”, or forest material such as leaves, branches, and trees that can add to a blaze. Luckily now, acceptance of the idea of prescribed fire in the area is gaining traction, and as a result the health of the habitat that surrounds Plymouth is improving. In this area, it is true that “small fires prevent big ones”, and even benefits the local ecosystem.

Wildfire lookout towers are still in use throughout the state of Massachusetts today. This was one of the stops on an information-packed field trip into the Myles Standish State Park.

Wildfire lookout towers are still in use throughout the state of Massachusetts today. This was one of the stops on an information-packed field trip into the Myles Standish State Park.

Having met so many wonderful partners new and old, HWMO is continuing to expand its knowledge base of management techniques used throughout the country. It is important to recognize the fact that every ecosystem throughout the country is different, and the methods used in certain places should be thoughtfully considered to ensure that the right method is used at the right location. Working with Native Tribes to come up with effective management techniques throughout the country is something that could benefit not only the health of the ecosystems, but could reduce the risk of unmanageable wildfires to come.

We would like to thank everyone at the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy Workshop for putting on an incredibly educational event. HWMO looks forward to continuing to develop best-practices of managing the many dimensions of wildfire using many of these techniques back home in Hawaiʻi. Mahalo everyone who made this such a successful workshop. A hui hou!

Puʻu Anahulu's Firewise Hazard Assessment is a first step towards becoming a Firewise Community

The terrain of this beautiful landscape is rough, and varies from a vast lava fields covered in dry fountain grass, to dense forests that are interspersed in and around the community. The steep gullies and hills that surround the community make it a landscape that is immediately intriguing, and definitely a challenge when it comes to fire-suppression. The Puʻu Anahulu Community on Hawaiʻi Island is located on the upper road between Waimea and Kona. They participated in their Firewise Hazard Assessment on October 16, 2019, and their wealth of knowledge about the area and it’s history fire was clear during the assessment.

Stop #4, the Historic Puʻu Anahulu Baptist Church

Stop #4, the Historic Puʻu Anahulu Baptist Church

The hazard assessment was extremely educational for the community as they worked with professionals from Hawaii Fire Department, Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the National Parks Service, the US Army Fire and Emergency Services, and Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization. As one unit, we went around the community to pre-planned areas where we could see the wildfire risk-potential, and understand what would happen in the case of a wildfire. “The majority of the work that saves a home during a wildfire is done long before a wildfire threatens a property” added Chief Moller, the US Army Fire Fire Chief. “This is an isolated community so it takes resources and extra time to get here. If the community is working to manage their own (fire risk), It will help the partnership for all of us”, said Chief Darwin Okinaka. “the bottom line is that we won’t put any personnel in danger to save a house. If the opportunity is there to save a house we will do it, but if the risk is too great, we may not be able to.”

Wanda Rowan, Puʻu Anahulu Resident sharing her knowledge of wildfire in the area.

Wanda Rowan, Puʻu Anahulu Resident sharing her knowledge of wildfire in the area.

This points to the fact that the real reason households within a community can stay safe during a wildfire is because of the work that has been done to not only create defensible space for fire personnel to safely defend a structure, but to ensure that the structure itself, and the vegetation immediately surrounding will not combust in the case of a nearby fire. With the prevalence of wildfires in Hawaii growing by over 400% since the 1960s, it is vital that homeowners take necessary precautions in case a wildfire does approach. Embers can be a very sneaky intruders through vents, igniting the flammable interiors of homes, yet can be stopped by 1/8th inch stainless steel mesh screening. The vegetation around a house also can be thought of as the potential kindling of a campfire. If there are dry branches, leaves, and twigs right underneath/next to the larger combustible material, it will allow the campfire log (or in this case, the side of a home) to become hot enough to combust, creating a structure fire. Simple firewise landscaping and building techniques can help a home withstand a wildfire, even if it comes within close proximity of the building.

Volunteer Fire Department personnel Steven Hyde speaks with the group at the northern boundary of the community.

Volunteer Fire Department personnel Steven Hyde speaks with the group at the northern boundary of the community.

While there are many different reasons why the Puʻu Anahulu community could become threatened in the case of wildfire, the first step to increase the communityʻs safety is to identify what exactly the hazards are that they are going to address. Once the hazard are addressed, then action to address those hazards should be a priority to help the families throughout the community protect the homes from fire. “(I am) Optimistic; the the greatest journeys start with the first step, and I think that is what we’re on; the first step. It will take many steps before we are able to get to our goal, but together, it will be a great journey” Concluded Chief Moller.

HWMO would like to extend a sincere thank-you to all of the safety personnel that came to participate in the Community Hazard Assessment yesterday; it was their experience fighting wildfire that made it possible for us to accurately identify the risks of the area. Also, a big mahalo to the Puʻu Anahulu community members that are putting in the effort necessary to keep their community prepared for wildfire.

Wildfire and Drought Lookout! 2019

HWMO’s Executive Director speaks in Honolulu at the 4th annual Wildfire and Drought LOOKOUT! campaign kickoff

HWMO’s Executive Director speaks in Honolulu at the 4th annual Wildfire and Drought LOOKOUT! campaign kickoff

Monday marked the launch of the 4th annual Wildfire and Drought LOOKOUT! campaign. Wildfire and Drought LOOKOUT! is a continuing campaign to keep people across the state informed of current fire and drought conditions, provide tips on protecting life and property from wildfires, and to provide information and education on how to deal with prolonged drought. More than thirty federal, state and county government agencies and supporting organizations are a part of the effort.

According to the The National Drought Mitigation Center, much of the State is currently undergoing drought conditions as Hawaii starts to enter drought season.

Source:  National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC)   For the United States Drought Monitor, click  here .

Source: National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC)
For the United States Drought Monitor, click here.

HWMO’s Executive Director, Elizabeth Pickett pointing out tips on how to reduce your chances of starting a fire.   See the KITV4 video here .

HWMO’s Executive Director, Elizabeth Pickett pointing out tips on how to reduce your chances of starting a fire.

See the KITV4 video here.

Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization would like to remind everyone to be very careful in the coming months during Hawaii’s peak drought season. As Elizabeth Pickett (HWMO) reminds everyone in the Wildfire and Drought LOOKOUT! news release, please put barbecues and campfires out cold before walking away, do not pull over on dry grass, and hold off on using equipment that may cause sparks.

While some of the Hawaiian islands have recently undergone plenty of rainfall, be aware that in the coming months this could mean greater vegetation loads, and that means more fuel for fire.

Be aware, and remember that it only takes ONE spark to start a wildfire.

Waikoloa Community Leadership Council Meeting

A lot was covered last week at the Waikoloa Community Leadership Council meeting. From how to alert residents of incidents that may require evacuation, to methods used for fostering community participation in mitigating fire risk and plenty of other issues.

A few of the major entities that were represented at the meeting include the Hawaii Fire Department (HFD), Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW), Hawaii County Civil Defense, Hawaii County Council Member Tim Richards, Hawaii Police Department (HPD), US Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Water Supply, Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative, the Waikoloa Board of Directors, Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO), as well as other members of the Waikoloa Village Association.

While many topics were discussed, one of the major points that remained on the table for quite some time was that Waikoloa Village does not have a standardized alert system in place, should a wildfire incident require evacuations. Waikoloa Village leadership is hoping for more governmental agency support while alerting residents in times of emergency. This brought up the fact that the Hawaii Fire and Police Departments are under-staffed and under-funded. There is a government-funded speaker alarm system being installed in Waikoloa Village, and it is understood that the Fire and Police Departments will do everything they can to ensure the safety of residents. This is a major improvement to what alert system existed before, but there is still much room for improvement to ensure the safety of all Waikoloa residents. The number of people in the village that may need assistance when it comes to an evacuation is beyond the capacity that local governmental agencies can handle. There are also precautionary measures that can be taken prior to a disaster such as making a plan with your fellow community members and neighbors. Individuals are urged to also sign up for Civil Defense texts and emails Here. While it is understood that government agencies such as the Fire and Police Departments will do everything in their power to assist a community such as Waikoloa Village in times of Emergency, it is also necessary for communities to do their part to be proactive, and ensure that evacuation when the time comes to be safe and successful.

Another big topic that came up is that the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative is not adequately protected from fires that would devastate such a pristine native forest preserve. The Waikoloa Dry Forest is determined to preserve, protect and restore a remnant native Hawaiian dry forest ecosystem through land management, outreach, education and grassroots advocacy. The fact remains that the Hawaii Fire Department is severely understaffed and under-funded. There are still over 50 job vacancies in the Fire Department, which limits their response capabilities, with life and safety as their top priority. One suggestion was that the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative could spend more energy on building a fire break around the forest preserve. This could turn the space surrounding the preserve from a dangerous landscape to access (even under non-emergency situations) into a defensible space that firefighters might be able to traverse with fewer risks and hazards.

While there were more topics covered at this meeting, it is clear that a continued collaboration is necessary to maintain the safety of the Waikoloa Village Community. The dangers of wildfire that surround this at-risk community cannot be handled by a single organization or agency. It will take a lot of effort on all sides to ensure the safety of this community surrounded by fire-prone grass.

We would like to extend a sincere thank you to the members of the Waikoloa Village Association Firewise Committee including Mark Gordon and Julia Alos for helping to make this meeting happen. It is invaluable to the safety of the community to bring these topics to light, as well as pre-plan and prepare for an emergency. When the time comes, itʻs best to be prepared!

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Public Information Officer (PIO) Training for Our New Community Education Coordinator

Carson Magoon, HWMO’s recently hired Community Education Coordinator had the opportunity to be trained by several leaders of the Incident Command System world: Tina Boehle, Greg Funderburk, Lori Iverson, Mike Johnson, and Mike Theune. He spent the week of May 20th in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park learning all about the Incident Command System (ICS) that goes into effect when a disastrous incident takes place, and how to effectively disseminate information to the public during an incident.

Recording as much of what the Incident Commander says in this ICS simulation. Credit:

Recording as much of what the Incident Commander says in this ICS simulation. Credit:

Being able to accurately and effectively keep people informed in times of disasters like wildfires is extremely important in the process of evacuating and correctly delegating resources. In events of crisis and confusion, being properly informed is a basic human need just as food, water and shelter. If you have the right information, the likelihood of making the correct decision in times of high risk are much greater.

Class going through the methods of good media relations

Class going through the methods of good media relations

During this training, Carson was able to learn facets of communicating incident information including interacting with the media and community members through many different communication channels. One key takeaway Carson gleaned from this experience is that a PIO should never divulge information that is not totally confirmed to be correct. Only confirmed information that you know is completely accurate should be shared with public and the media. That being said, in times of crisis, if information is not being released promptly, stories will still be shared among people whether they are factually accurate or not. This requires Public Information Officers to be as prompt as possible when informing the public, but they also must be very careful that the information they release is completely accurate. Cases of non-factual information being given to the public can result in a public-relations situation that can be very difficult to remediate.

While a few more classes are required of Carson to go out on assignment as Public Information Officer during an incident, the information-packed training was an extremely beneficial experience for Carson and HWMO. As he moves forward with Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization in hopes of keeping the communities of Hawaii as informed as possible about wildfire threats, he will undoubtedly be able to gather, assemble, and disseminate information more effectively after the training involved in this course.

Kamilonui-Mariner's Cove Memorial Day Weekend Wildfire Mitigation Project

Representative Gene Ward joins the cause this past weekend.

Representative Gene Ward joins the cause this past weekend.

As a very fitting tribute to Memorial Day, a collaboration of people including military veterans from Team Rubicon, an international veteran service organization that uses disaster response to help reintegrate veterans back into civilian life, came out in full force to create a large firebreak around Kamilonui-Mariner’s Cove. The Firewise Community (the first ever on Oahu as of this year!) of agricultural and residential lots in Hawaii Kai, has been working with HWMO for a couple of years now in an effort to create a more wildfire resilient community.

Carol Jaxon (left) and Elizabeth Reilly (middle) have been instrumental in moving Firewise Communities project forward in Kamilonui-Mariner’s Cove. We cannot thank them enough!

Carol Jaxon (left) and Elizabeth Reilly (middle) have been instrumental in moving Firewise Communities project forward in Kamilonui-Mariner’s Cove. We cannot thank them enough!

Big mahalo to Team Rubicon for the enormous time and effort they donated to the cause!

Big mahalo to Team Rubicon for the enormous time and effort they donated to the cause!

This weekend, as part of Wildfire Preparedness Day, we are seeing what it means to be fire-adapted: everyone playing a role to reduce wildfire risk. The Firewise committee consisting of local residents and farmers, Aloha Aina O Kamilo Nui, and Livable Hawaii Kai Hui organized the work days; Team Rubicon volunteers are knocking back fire fuels; neighboring landowners provided access to the land and green waste hauling services; residents are feeding volunteers; and HWMO provided a hazard assessment, continual guidance through the Firewise Communities process, and a $2,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service. We are so grateful to everyone who is helping out to make Kamilonui - Mariner’s Cove a model for community-driven wildfire protection on Oahu and for the rest of the Hawaiian Islands!

All photos courtesy of Aloha Aina O Kamilonui

Waikii Ranch 3rd Annual Firewise BBQ

Chief Eric Moller gives the latest wildfire conditions update.

Chief Eric Moller gives the latest wildfire conditions update.

Waikii Ranch became a Firewise Community in 2017 and has been going strong ever since in their community-based wildfire resilience efforts. On Saturday, May 18, HWMO’s Pablo Akira Beimler and Carson Magoon were invited to join residents for an info session and BBQ. We shared HWMO updates and stressed the importance of getting ready now rather than later for peak fire season.

U.S. Army-Garrison, FES Chief Eric Moller and Captain Bill Bergin from Hawaii Fire Department also gave brief presentations, reiterating the importance of Firewise landscaping, home fire-proofing, and evacuation planning (Ready, Set, Go!)

The food was delicious, and as an added bonus, each resident could take home a koaia tree to plant in their own yard as part of their Firewise landscaping.

West Kauaʻi Ready Set Go! Workshop and Home Ignition Zone Training

Earlier this week, Hawaiʻi Wildfire Management Organization traveled to West Kauaʻi to present the Ready Set Go! framework, and even practice those concepts in the field at the beautiful Kōkeʻe State Park.

HWMO Executive Director Elizabeth teaches what to look out for while assessing Home Ignition Zones.

HWMO Executive Director Elizabeth teaches what to look out for while assessing Home Ignition Zones.

It was great to hear from members of the community in Waimea the night before, and Pablo Beimler (HWMOʻs Community Outreach Coordinator) did a great job presenting the Ready Set Go! (RSG) framework. The RSG! program was devised by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and is a very useful tool, presenting the best practices for preventing unintended fires from happening in the first place, and then if they do happen, what steps to take and WHEN to take them. We were joined by representatives of the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW), and went over some of the actions that Waimea residents could take to prevent destructive wildfires.

The Ready Set Go! workshop participants.

The Ready Set Go! workshop participants.

The RSG! presentation was filled with information on how to reduce the risk of certain wildfire fuels surrounding your home, how to lessen the chances of wildfire spread from surrounding vegetation to your structure, as well as how to protect structures themselves from igniting, should the embers or flames from a fire come into contact. We all walked away with a little more knowledge on how protect ourselves, our homes, and our livelihoods from fire.

After Pabloʻs presentation, we learned a significant amount about the obstacles certain community members are up against while taking measures to reduce wildfire hazards around their properties and homes. The community members, agency representatives, and HWMO had time to converse and share ideas on the next steps that could be taken to reduce fire risk.

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The next morning, we met and went through a Home Ignition Zone (HIZ) score card at Kōkeʻe state park, where one cabin resident allowed us to assess the fire risk of built structures at his cabin. It was beneficial to put the knowledge we had gleamed the night before into direct use, and understand what phrases like ladder fuels, fire-prone brush, and defensible spaces meant while applying it to a real-life structure. Each member of that workshop left with a greater understanding of how fire can travel faster uphill, the risks of storing wood underneath your house that could easily act as kindling, and how tree branches growing right next to the eaves of your roof could ignite your structure. It was a beautiful day outside in the precious native forest of Kōkeʻe.

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We would like to thank the community members that came out to this event to learn how to be more Firewise, as well as the member of DOFAW that helped put on this educational event. DOFAW representatives Mapuana, Ceanne, Kawika, and Mike all helped us put on the successful event. We look forward to working with the West Kauaʻi communities again in the future, and hope to see the Ready Set Go! program grow there so that the people in those communities are as prepared as they can be in the event of a wildfire. An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of suppression!

Mahalo everyone for making this event successful!

Kauai Fire Department Annual Brushfire Meeting

This past Monday, HWMO was fortunate to go to Kauai and be a part of an annual brushfire meeting held at the Kauai Fire Department Fire Prevention Bureau. This extremely educational event brought in members of the Kauai County Fire department, landowners, and businesses alike to discuss the status of wildfires on Kauai, the current risk level, and how the Kauai community could manage these risks. 

Some findings that were presented were astounding. According to Kevin Kodama, Senior Service Hydrologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2019 is already on track to be one of riskiest years yet in terms of wildfires as the dry season is already well ahead of the average drought cycle. This year has been identified as a “weak El Niño.” Rain has come down in large volumes at times, feeding the fire-prone brush that ignites very easily. These “leaky” phases of a weak El Niño do not last long and instead, long periods of dry conditions can persist, leaving many areas under “red flag” wildfire conditions (especially when winds pick up and humidity drops).

Elizabeth Pickett, Executive Director of HWMO presented our Vegetation Management Mapping Project at the meeting, as well. She did an amazing job showing the community what we have been able to create over the past few years. After working with over 200 large landowners to record different land areas, we have put together maps displaying management of wildfire fuel throughout the State of Hawaii. It was extremely beneficial to the greater community to learn about whether certain regions of vegetation are being managed, and how they are being managed to prevent wildfires. This information will also help landowners track down funding and knowledge to better manage these areas that have overgrown vegetative fuels. HWMO is proud of the fact that we are helping communities become more knowledgeable and prepared to prevent costly disasters from occurring. 

Elizabeth Pickett discussing HWMOʻs vegetative fuels mapping project

Elizabeth Pickett discussing HWMOʻs vegetative fuels mapping project

Kawika Smith from the Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) also presented on the various suppression techniques they use to mitigate wildfires on over 650,000 areas of land managed by DOFAW statewide. He went into the importance and methods of protecting Hawaiian ecosystems and watersheds from disastrous wildfires. 

Kawika Smith discussing county and federal assistance with wildfire mitigation

Kawika Smith discussing county and federal assistance with wildfire mitigation

There were many other individuals and entities that made an important impact during this Annual Brushfire Meeting, and we would like to thank everyone that attended for being there. Taking part in community events like this one help to make a real difference in keeping the communities of Kauai safe, as well as protecting the fragile ecosystems and watersheds of Hawaii.  


We would also like to show our deepest gratitude to the Kauai Fire Department for using their time and energy to put on such an impactful event. The amount of good that can come out of mitigation efforts such as this can help to reduce the risk of disastrous wildfires when the whole community gets together in the name of knowledge sharing. Mahalo KFD for making this happen.  

Kaʻū ReadySetGo! Wildfire Preparedness Weekend

This past weekend, as part of Wildfire Preparedness Month, Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO) teamed up with Nā Mamo O Kāwā (NMOK), and led a workshop on Friday night to help community members learn about the Ready Set Go! fire preparedness framework. Many people in the group were volunteer firefighters from the Kaʻū area, and had plenty of knowledge to share with everyone in the room. This wonderful night, which was hosted at the historic Pahala Plantation House was filled with anecdotal stories and great information to be absorbed as the community examined its current fire situation.

Before Ladder Fuel Thinning…

Before Ladder Fuel Thinning…

After!

After!

Community members were able to take immediate action the next day as we got our hands dirty in Kāwā restoration efforts. We got to put our ladder fuel knowledge into action as we removed lower branches of christmasberry and ʻekoa that could easily help a fire climb into the upper canopy of the forest. We planted several Firewise native plants including ʻaʻaliʻi that are now able to grow under the shade of the freshly pruned canopy. Members of NMOK taught us about the cultural significance of Kāwā, and the methods they are using to restore such an important place. In all, over 20 people participated in the 2 events, and we would like to extend a sincere mahalo for being a part of such a successful weekend!