We joined a climate adaptation meeting with the very proactive Waianae Coast Disaster Readiness Team on February 21. The WCDRT had recently formed a subcommittee to focus on Firewise Community work in Waianae and invited us to chat with them to discuss potential candidates for the program. The group settled on Sea Country in Maili, which would make the community the first Firewise Community in the western half of Oahu. We stayed for the rest of the meeting to hear from presenters regarding sea level rise adaptation and general climate adaptation strategies. Josh Stanbro from the County of Honolulu Office of Climate Change took a survey of the large meeting group to assess what climate challenges were on people's minds.
On February 13, over a dozen community members from Kamilonui Valley and Mariner's Cove in Hawaii Kai joined our workshop with Honolulu Fire Department, DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and University of Hawaii CTAHR Cooperative Extension. The community members heard from the various agency representatives about the importance of taking action early to prevent fire loss in the community. HWMO has teamed up with the community to support them in becoming the first Firewise Community in the eastern half of Oahu.
As a requirement of becoming a nationally-recognized Firewise Community, our team met with several of the community members a few months ago to conduct a community-wide wildfire hazard assessment. After synthesizing the information in a comprehensive report, we designed a workshop to inform the community members about their wildfire risk. At the end of the workshop, the community members listed the priority actions they wanted to see taken in the community to protect it from wildfire. Those actions will be used to formulate an action plan, another requirement for becoming a Firewise Community. From then on, it is action time! The community plans to take preventive action this summer as part of Wildfire Prep Day with a volunteer event to reduce hazardous vegetation along the edges of the community.
We started the week by working on recruiting a potential new Firewise Community in Puna on the Big Island (which would be the first on the east side). Proactive Nanawale residents and HOA staff joined us for a wildfire preparedness workshop on February 5 at the Nanawale Longhouse. We guided the workshop attendees through the Ready, Set, Go! program and encouraged them to pursue looking into becoming a nationally-recognized Firewise Community. Following the presentation, we walked over to a nearby home to practice assessing a home ignition zone for wildfire hazards (the best way to learn is out in the field!)
During the workshop, we held an input session to hear about the wildfire-related concerns of community members. Some key concerns included albizia control, lack of ingress/egress, and lack of continuous support from legislators. We then discussed possible solutions that could help address these issues. Nanawale is no stranger to environmental hazards. In 2014, the Pahoa lava flow threatened the community and the recent Hurricane Iselle proved very damaging to the community, which was largely out of power for several weeks. The community may not have gotten the federal aid and even local government support they had hoped for, but they took matters in their own hands anyways by supporting each other. This is a key function of a Firewise Community that is fire-adapted to its surroundings: building community resilience for the long-run is most impactful and effective when the whole community comes together.
The Firewise Communities movement is spreading to Oahu! Over the last two years, HWMO has assisted 10 communities in becoming nationally-recognized Firewise Communities. There are now 11 official communities in Hawaii, part of a network of over 1,400 across the U.S. Those 11 communities are located on Hawaii Island and Maui. That is soon to change as proactive residents and community organizations from Kamilonui-Mariner’s Cove are taking the necessary steps towards making their beloved community in Hawaii Kai a Firewise Community.
This year has been a particularly stressful one for Kamilonui Valley Farm Lots and Mariner’s Cove residents. Over a dozen suspicious fire starts, a few that grew into larger fires, had burned close to the community in the first half of 2017. Since then, the community has been charged to take action. HWMO linked with Livable Hawaii Kai Hui and Senator Stanley Chang’s Office to organize a community-wide Firewise hazard assessment on November 27. Together with representatives from DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW), Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board, Royal Contracting, and Kamilonui Farm Lots, the working group walked and drove around the community to examine common wildfire hazards and areas for potential wildfire risk reduction projects.
The assessment team first convened at the Mariner’s Cove Bay Club to map out an itinerary for the day, determine priority community areas to examine on the field assessment, and establish boundaries for the Firewise Community designation. Following the meeting, the team walked along an access road off of Hawaii Kai Drive, visited Pahua Heiau, and caravanned to the end of Kamilonui Place to examine the wildland area in the back of the valley. Along with these priority areas, the team also visited a home to conduct a “Home Ignition Zone” assessment to gain a better idea of the wildfire hazards at the individual lot level and pull locally-relevant examples of best practices for creating defensible space and fire-proofing structures.
Once HWMO completes a written report of the hazard assessment, they will present their findings to the working group and the larger community in February 2018. The working group will take recommendations provided in the report into consideration when they develop an action plan for wildfire risk reduction activities in their community.
We thank all of the partners who joined us for the hazard assessment and are excited for what’s to come in 2018 for Kamilonui-Mariner’s Cove!
Kanehoa, a subdivision halfway between Kawaihae and Waimea on Hawaii Island, was the second community in Hawaii to become a nationally-recognized Firewise Community. Since 2015, they have contributed hundreds of volunteer hours and linked with HWMO for a couple of $5,000 grants to remove flammable vegetation from along internal roadsides. As part of the next step in their action plan, they hope to plant more native vegetation along common areas and around their own homes.
Native dryland plants can be an added defense for your home, though like with any plants, site location and what you plant matters greatly for fire safety reasons. On November 4th, Kanehoa Firewise Committee members invited HWMO to join them for a Firewise Native Plant Workshop. Fifteen community members listened in as guest speaker Jill Wagner of Hawaii Island Seed Bank talked story about the importance of restoring native plants in our own communities. The area between Puu Waa Waa to Kohala Mountain on the leeward side was one of the most biodiverse areas in Hawaii, she shared. Years of drought, invasive species and disease stress, overgrazing, climate change, and wildfire have contributed to the demise of the native forests, which act as important watersheds. We have seen some success in recent years towards preserving and restoring these native forests with the emergence of strong conservation partnerships and efforts, better grazing practices targeted towards conservation and wildfire risk reduction, and wildfire protection projects that span the South Kohala area. However, there is still a lot to be done and we can all play a large role even around our own homes.
Ms. Wagner brought in a few native plants of her own for Kanehoa residents to pass around and get to know better. She enlightened us on ground covers such as iliee, akia, pohinahina and pau o hiiaka; shrubs such as aalii, aweoweo, and alahee; and trees such as mamane, lama, ohe makai, and wiliwili. If these names are unfamiliar to you or you would like to learn more, click on the links below.
Waikii Ranch, which is surrounded by fire-prone grasslands on all sides, is a community near Waimea that is well on its way to being one of the next nationally-recognized Firewise Communities as of 2017. They took another major step on September 23 by hosting a Firewise Hazard Training and BBQ, which qualified as their annual Firewise Day. Over 25 community members joined in to listen to presentations from HWMO and our partners from Hawaii Fire Department, U.S. Army-Garrison Fire and Emergency Services, and DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife. HWMO’s Pablo Beimler gave a presentation on wildfire impacts, background on wildfire preparedness programs (Ready, Set, Go! and Wildfire Lookout!), and a brief intro to the Firewise Communities Recognition Program.
U.S. Army’s Chief Eric Moller spoke thereafter with the main message being that by becoming a Firewise Community, residents were taking an important step towards protecting themselves as well as the lives and safety of first responders. Captain Bill Bergin from HFD followed with several Firewise tips and background on some of the fire issues and history in Waikii. Jacob from DOFAW’s State Tree Nursery also spoke about the importance of creating defensible space and recommended the community plant more native trees and understory to reduce wildfire risk. To wrap up the presentations, a resident of Puu Kapu who lost her home in a recent brushfire gave a first-hand account of her harrowing experience evacuating the fire. She stressed the importance of planning ahead and it was a truly courageous thing for her to share her story in front of so many people.
After the speakers shared their thoughts, a member of the Waikii Ranch HOA put on a Firewise video outlining tips on Firewise landscaping and home fire-proofing.
The event concluded with a BBQ where fire officials mingled with community members and enjoyed delicious grindz. Thank you Waikii Ranch HOA for hosting all of us and being a part of the growing Firewise movement in Hawaii.
Kawaihae is becoming a hot bed, not just for wildfire, but for grassroots community efforts to reduce the wildfire threat in the fire-prone area. Kohala-By-The-Sea and Honokoa subdivisions have received Firewise Communities recognition inspiring Kohala Waterfront, a newer subdivision on the makai side of the highway opposite of the two other subdivisions, to pursue certification for 2017.
On August 17, HWMO and Kohala Waterfront Firewise Committee hosted a meeting of twelve concerned and enthusiastic Kohala Waterfront homeowners to hear highlights from the Firewise Community Hazard Assessment conducted by HWMO and Hawaii Fire Department a few months ago. We shared our concerns about the sea of buffelgrass that surrounded homes throughout the subdivision and unlimbed kiawe trees that were dangerously encroaching upon homes. Although it may seem daunting at first, Kohala Waterfront has a lot working towards their advantage, especially since they are a newer subdivision and can get the community going in the right direction by becoming a Firewise Community early on. We gave tips based on Ready Set Go! and Wildfire Lookout! on how residents could reduce the fire threat around their homes or better yet, as a community.
Kohala Waterfront is well on their way to becoming one of the next Firewise Communities, of which there are now nine in the state.
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.
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 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).