Firewise Communities

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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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!

Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network Annual Workshop - Ashland, OR

FAC Net Annual Workshop participants representing areas across the U.S. Credit: FAC Net

FAC Net Annual Workshop participants representing areas across the U.S. Credit: FAC Net

What a week we had in Ashland, Oregon (April 22 to 25) thanks to the amazing staff from Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, a wildfire resiliency learning network. HWMO is now officially a Core Member of FAC Net on behalf of our amazing partners across Hawaii and the Western Pacific. FAC Net members from Ashland welcomed us with open arms as they hosted this year’s annual workshop and showcased the inspiring multi-partner work they were doing to protect community and natural areas.

We hiked, we ate, we shared, we listened, we got out of our comfort zones, all of this together with a group of inspiring people from across the U.S. doing the important work to create a more wildfire-resilient future. We were sad to leave our new and old friends but very energized to come back to Hawaii and continue the critical work HWMO is doing to make Hawaii safer from wildfires

On a captivating and education field tour of Lithia Park where a combination of methods to reduce wildfire hazards including prescribed fire are being used to restore the watershed.

On a captivating and education field tour of Lithia Park where a combination of methods to reduce wildfire hazards including prescribed fire are being used to restore the watershed.

Hearing stories about residents teaming up with the Ashland Fire Department and local contractors to create a Firewise Community.

Hearing stories about residents teaming up with the Ashland Fire Department and local contractors to create a Firewise Community.

Just like in Hawaii, there are Firewise Communities all over Ashland. Here’s our Executive Director, Elizabeth Pickett, pointing one out.

Just like in Hawaii, there are Firewise Communities all over Ashland. Here’s our Executive Director, Elizabeth Pickett, pointing one out.

We were treated to some amazing food throughout the week — and most importantly, ate meals with awesome people!

We were treated to some amazing food throughout the week — and most importantly, ate meals with awesome people!

A reflection poem from Pablo, HWMO’s Community Outreach Coordinator:

It was a truly inspiring and motivating week in Ashland, 
hearing from locals and their sobering stories about 
the realities of a vastly changing climate, 
of summers that so smoky kids stay indoors for weeks on end, 
of people packing their bags and leaving 
because their lungs cannot inhale particulate pollution.

I was able to join a community of connectors from across the U.S., 
of people in the wildland fire field who are taking measures 
in their areas to scrap status quo and think outside of the box, 
to topple silos and bridge groups who've never sat at tables together.

The immense wildfire situation we face requires everyone 
and requires solutions both new and revived, 
where traditional knowledge centuries in the making intertwines 
with the creative capacity we all have to adapt and innovate.

It takes us all to create fire-adapted communities.

Paniolo Hale Firewise Community Hazard Assessment

The assessment crew pointing out vegetative hazards on the wildland-urban interface of Paniolo Hale.

The assessment crew pointing out vegetative hazards on the wildland-urban interface of Paniolo Hale.

On April 1, 2019, HWMO flew to Molokaʻi, past the stunning cliffs of the North Shore, for a Firewise community hazard assessment of Paniolo Hale on the West End.

Paniolo Hale is an 8.75-acre condominium complex consisting of 21 buildings that include 76 dwelling units and a main office. Approximately 140 people live there, but nearly all are part-time residents (only about a half-dozen or so are full-time residents). Each unit is privately owned and ranges from studios to one or two-bedroom units. There is a resident manager and landscaping manager on-site. The condos are located in Kaluakoi in West Molokaʻi as part of a larger cluster of resort-style homes and vacation rentals along the scenic Kepuhi Beach (Paniolo Hale being the northern-most development in this zone). 

Across the gulch from Paniolo Hale due south is the partially-abandoned Kepuhi Beach Resort. Although some of the buildings are completely abandoned, many of the buildings are used as vacation rentals. Most of the grounds’ vegetation is still maintained, but the large golf course surrounding it is no longer in use and has gone fallow since the resort officially closed over a decade ago. Another condominium complex is situated due southeast of Paniolo Hale: Ke Nani Kai.

Captain Hanale Lindo of Maui Fire Department in front of roadside fuels.

Captain Hanale Lindo of Maui Fire Department in front of roadside fuels.

An abandoned golf course that once served as a wildland buffer, or greenbreak, for the community.

An abandoned golf course that once served as a wildland buffer, or greenbreak, for the community.

The assessment team taking a look at the wildland fuels.

The assessment team taking a look at the wildland fuels.

In early 2019, HWMO was contacted by the landscaping manager of Paniolo Hale for advice on wildfire prevention opportunities for the community. HWMO informed her about Firewise Communities and after a short turnaround, the Paniolo Hale neighborhood board decided to proceed in working towards Firewise Community recognition. As a first major step, a group of proactive residents and Paniolo hale staff met with HWMO, Maui Fire Department, and State Division of Forestry and Wildlife for the Firewise hazard assessment.

The assessment team first convened at the Paniolo Hale main office to map out an itinerary for the day, determine priority community areas to examine on the field assessment, and establish boundaries for the Firewise site. Following the meeting, the group walked to several areas to gain a vantage point of the intersection between wildland and urban areas. Along with these priority areas, the team also visited several representative homes to conduct a “Home Ignition Zone” assessment to better comprehend the wildfire hazards at the individual household level and identify locally-relevant examples of best practices for creating defensible space and fire-proofing structures.

The scenic Kepuhi Beach near Paniolo Hale.

The scenic Kepuhi Beach near Paniolo Hale.

Paniolo Hale is well on pace to become the first Firewise Community on Molokaʻi by the end of 2019! Mahalo Paniolo Hale!

Banner photo: view of Paniolo Hale from Kepuhi Beach Resort

Puukapu Pastoral Wildfire Planning Meeting and RSG! Workshop

HFD gives a presentation on wildfire access in Puukapu.

HFD gives a presentation on wildfire access in Puukapu.

An elaborate 3D map the Puukapu Pastoral committee assembled.

An elaborate 3D map the Puukapu Pastoral committee assembled.

Last year, Puukapu Pastoral became the 9th Firewise Community on Hawaii Island (and the 4th Firewise Community statewide on Hawaiian Home Lands). A committed group of community members from Puukapu Pastoral Steering Committee / Firewise are taking action to reduce the fire threats of the Waimea homestead area. Through outreach and education, community members are reaching out to neighbors about the importance of creating defensible space around houses, hardening homes, and having a household evacuation plan. The committee is also developing a well-thought-out, community-driven plan to create safer first response access and ingress/egress.

On March 21, the committee held a community meeting and invited HWMO and HFD representatives to give presentations. HWMO’s Pablo Akira Beimler gave a comprehensive Ready, Set, Go! wildfire preparedness workshop to the intent participants. The highlight of the night for us was to see an amazing 3D map the committee members had created (they were up till the wee hours of the night!) to demonstrate their color-coded road system proposal. We were very impressed with the level of detail and the immense effort and care the group put into this project. This community spirit is what keeps HWMO motivated to do the work that we do and support efforts like this. Keep up the great work, Puukapu!

Waimea Middle School IKAIR Day at Puako Fuelbreak

Playing “fire tag” in Puako.

Playing “fire tag” in Puako.

March 14 was Waimea Middle School IKAIR Day - a day of service for WMS students and faculty. Several groups from WMS visited different project sites around North Hawaii. One group joined Keep Puako Beautiful and the Kohala Center at Puako (a Firewise Community) to collect and measure marine debris and spread mulch onto the community fuelbreak. HWMO was invited to give a brief presentation on the history of the fuelbreak and the importance of pre-fire action and native plant restoration. Students were led through a few games of “fire tag” to demonstrate how a native forest converts to grass savanna in Hawaii. After these teaching moments, the students took action to spread mulch on the fuelbreak, keeping pesky fire-prone weeds from growing back and keeping the delicate soil in place and away from the reefs. Good work team and big mahalo to Cynthia Ho for inviting us!

Honokaa High School Classroom Presentation and Mock Community Meeting

Students place stickers on priority project ideas during a mock community meeting.

Students place stickers on priority project ideas during a mock community meeting.

HWMO’s Pablo Akira Beimler visited Ms. Solomon’s classroom at Honokaa High School on March 5 to give a presentation about wildfire. Pablo shared information on the Firewise Communities and Ready, Set, Go!, with a focus on the importance of coming together as a community to work towards wildfire protection solutions. After the brief presentation, Pablo had the students pair up for active listening exercises in preparation for a mock community meeting. Once students understood the concept of active listening, he assigned each student a “community role” to act as, each with their own varied interests and backgrounds. Then it was meeting time — each student shared their points of view while the others tuned in. The students gave their concerns and recommended actions and then used stickers to vote on their priority ideas, just as HWMO would do at an actual community meeting. At the final tally, the “community group” prioritized native plant restoration in a community area as the most important project idea. In the spirit of a true fire-adapted community, everyone came together to decide on what would be best to protect the “community” from wildfire.

You can find this activity and more in our kNOw Fire curriculum.

Malama Learning Center Teacher Training on Wildfire and Climate Change

West Oahu teachers play a round of “Fire Tag.”

West Oahu teachers play a round of “Fire Tag.”

HWMO’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Pablo Akira Beimler, and University of Hawaii CTAHR Cooperative Extension’s Wildfire Specialist, Dr. Clay Trauernicht presented a full morning of information on wildfire and climate change in Hawaii to West Oahu school teachers. West Oahu is an epicenter of wildfire activity, so we were very grateful for the opportunity to share information on Ready, Set, Go!, Firewise Communities, and Wildfire LOOKOUT! We even had the teachers do a round of “Fire Tag” to then teach to students — the game is a great way to learn about how fire has destroyed native forests and created Hawaiian savannas. Mahalo Malama Learning Center for inviting us and Kapolei High School for hosting us!

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