20 miles, or 40 minutes, of driving distance from the nearest fire station requires a different kind of thinking when it comes to wildfire preparedness. That is exactly what Kahikinui residents on Maui constantly have in mind given they are in a very fire prone and hazardous region. Just within the past decade or so, the community has experienced 5 major wildfires, most recently in February of this year. The recent wildfire burned right to the edge of homes, scalding 5,300 acres in its path. A month later, a flareup of the fire led firefighting efforts up into the difficult-to-access mauka forests. Road access, given the topography and limited infrastructure in Kahikinui, made for a challenging firefight.
On June 29th, Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership invited Pablo Beimler (HWMO), Melissa Kunz (HWMO/PFX), and Clay Trauernicht (UH Coop Extension, CTAHR) on a site visit of the recent burn. LHWRP’s Andrea Buckman and Keahi Bustamante, who have worked together in the area for numerous years, led everyone on a bumpy ride through the burned areas. What they saw was a scorched landscape from makai to up mauka that included torched fencelines, warped water tanks, toasted PVC irrigation lines, and scalded wiliwili trees. There are hundreds more wiliwili and other native plants in this biodiverse stretch of leeward Maui that the Leeward Haleakala Watershed Partnership and Kahikinui residents and businesses are working together to protect.
The site visit was mostly a sneak preview for a late-July field tour PFX will host, inviting various agency and community stakeholders to join. Pablo was also able to collect initial information for the hazard assessment that HWMO will put together for Kahikinui community in their pursuit of becoming a Firewise Community this year.
We met with community members after the tour and were humbled by the stories they had to share. Since the early '90s, the Hawaiian families that reclaimed DHHL land are working to revive their ancestral lands and live off the grid even in the face of the 5 major fires in the past decade or so. Their grit, perseverance, sense of community, and love for the aina will all be assets as they work to achieve Firewise Certification. Facing the challenges with wildfires in Kahikinui will require uniting all stakeholders, from neighboring ranches to fire agencies to the watershed partnership, for the common goal of creating a Fire Adapted Community.