Dry vegetation. Check. Roadside ignition hazards. Check. Challenging firefighter access. Check. North Kona has all of the ingredients that make-up a wildfire-prone area. That's why we've taken initiative this year to put together North Kona's first Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). Of course, a solid CWPP can only be created through the guidance of the community (it says it right there in the name!) The Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization team held three community meetings to draw input from local residents, resource managers, large landowners, and emergency responders in the North Kona region. The first meeting was held at the Puʻu Anahulu Community Center on the evening of January 27th. With a fading sunset as the backdrop of the outdoor meeting, twenty-two residents, ranchers, and firefighters gathered for the meeting, which kicked-off with a presentation by HWMO's Executive Director, Elizabeth Pickett. Following the presentation, the attendees grouped up in small discussion groups to put down their wildfire concerns and recommended actions and projects to address those concerns. After the thoughtful discussions were conducted, HWMO staff asked a group representative to speak for each group and unveil some of their group's action items. HWMO staff then hung all of the input on a wall and had attendees vote for their highest priority concerns and projects, which will also make it into the finalized plan. To wrap it all up, participants placed stickers to mark their places of value or in other words, favorite places in the North Kona area on a giant map we printed for the meeting.
We followed this same procedure at subsequent meetings at the Civic Center and Kealakehe Intermediate School on January 29th. A total of ten community members showed up to the meetings, most of them hailing from the Pines I & II communities that just had a wildfire scare - in fact, they've had a few of them within the last couple of years.
In just three one-hour meetings, we were able to collect an incredible amount of input from such enthusiastic community members. We wanted to share some of it with you (as a preview before the finalized plan is released):
1) Poor road access
2) Poor water access
3) Firebreak at Puʻu Lani Ranch
4) Archaeological and burial sites on private and state lands need protection
5) Roadside ignitions
6) Create access to GMA above Puʻu Lani Ranch to maintain firebreaks & grass control
7) Roadside fuels and empty lot overgrowth
1) High-capacity off-road vehicles for HFD; Create firebreaks and access roads
2) More dip tanks; Mandatory hose fittings at each home; Keep hydrants clear
3) Needs maintenance
4) Create firebreaks; Utilize grazing
5) More signage along roads; Call boxes/alert systems along roads
6) Work with the State and Puʻu Lani homeowners
7) Homeowners Associations and HWMO to help fund weed-whacking days to help out; Fences for livestock grazing; Create Brush Abatement laws; Educate public about Firewise landscaping and drought-resistant native plants
These were just a few examples of the large collection of input we gathered at the meetings. Stay tuned for the finalized plan which we'll post on the website upon completion.
Mahalo to all of you who participated in the North Kona CWPP meetings. We can't make these plans without your support and guidance!
Banner photo: Residents, ranchers, and firefighters gathered at Puʻu Anahulu Community Center to offer their input for the North Kona CWPP.