The Firewise Communities movement in Hawaii continues to grow. There are now 11 Firewise Communities in Hawaii, 10 of which HWMO has assisted in the last two years. Puukapu Farm Lots, which spans thousands of acres of Department of Hawaiian Homeland-owned pasture in Waimea on Hawaii Island, is the latest candidate for becoming a Firewise Community. HWMO has a new round of funding from the US Forest Service, with additional help from State Farm, to assist at least 4 more communities towards becoming a nationally-recognized Firewise Community. Puukapu residents have jumped on the opportunity early, aiming to become certified in 2018.
The homestead community has had many encounters with brushfires over the years, especially during droughts and summer months. The most recent large fire that occurred in and around Puukapu was a 2,200-acre wildfire that started on July 7, 2017. The fire originated from one of the lots on the southwest end of Puukapu and, fueled by strong prevailing trade winds, quickly spread through the adjacent Parker Ranch pastures towards Highway 190. The start of the fire is now suspected to be an accidental start from fireworks. Several residents stayed to fight the fire with garden hoses before first responders could arrive to protect a home on one of the properties. Other residents also helped by driving skid steers or tractors to create firebreaks. Fortunately, no human casualties resulted from the blaze. The fire did, however, burn down a home and vehicle and took the lives of a couple of sheep on another property. There was also significant damage to fencing, waterlines, and water tanks on both Puukapu private lots and Parker Ranch lands, let alone the thousands of acres of pasture that were burned.
As a response to the latest fire, several community members gathered on October 20, 2017, to meet with HWMO and Hawaii Fire Department (HFD) representatives to conduct a community-wide Firewise hazard assessment. The assessment team first convened at the entrance of Poliahu Alanui to map out an itinerary for the day and determine priority community areas to examine on the field assessment. The team drove throughout the subdivision, examining various water resources and wildland borders along the way Along with the priority areas, the team visited a few homes 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 new Firewise Committee formed by Puukapu community members. The Committee 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 the Puukapu community members and HFD for joining the hazard assessment and look forward to their continuing partnership in this effort to establish Puukapu as a Firewise Community.