Wildfire & Drought Look Out!

Wildfire and Drought Lookout! 2019

HWMO’s Executive Director speaks in Honolulu at the 4th annual Wildfire and Drought LOOKOUT! campaign kickoff

HWMO’s Executive Director speaks in Honolulu at the 4th annual Wildfire and Drought LOOKOUT! campaign kickoff

Monday marked the launch of the 4th annual Wildfire and Drought LOOKOUT! campaign. Wildfire and Drought LOOKOUT! is a continuing campaign to keep people across the state informed of current fire and drought conditions, provide tips on protecting life and property from wildfires, and to provide information and education on how to deal with prolonged drought. More than thirty federal, state and county government agencies and supporting organizations are a part of the effort.

According to the The National Drought Mitigation Center, much of the State is currently undergoing drought conditions as Hawaii starts to enter drought season.

Source:  National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC)   For the United States Drought Monitor, click  here .

Source: National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC)
For the United States Drought Monitor, click here.

HWMO’s Executive Director, Elizabeth Pickett pointing out tips on how to reduce your chances of starting a fire.   See the KITV4 video here .

HWMO’s Executive Director, Elizabeth Pickett pointing out tips on how to reduce your chances of starting a fire.

See the KITV4 video here.

Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization would like to remind everyone to be very careful in the coming months during Hawaii’s peak drought season. As Elizabeth Pickett (HWMO) reminds everyone in the Wildfire and Drought LOOKOUT! news release, please put barbecues and campfires out cold before walking away, do not pull over on dry grass, and hold off on using equipment that may cause sparks.

While some of the Hawaiian islands have recently undergone plenty of rainfall, be aware that in the coming months this could mean greater vegetation loads, and that means more fuel for fire.

Be aware, and remember that it only takes ONE spark to start a wildfire.

Kauai Fire Department Annual Brushfire Meeting

This past Monday, HWMO was fortunate to go to Kauai and be a part of an annual brushfire meeting held at the Kauai Fire Department Fire Prevention Bureau. This extremely educational event brought in members of the Kauai County Fire department, landowners, and businesses alike to discuss the status of wildfires on Kauai, the current risk level, and how the Kauai community could manage these risks. 

Some findings that were presented were astounding. According to Kevin Kodama, Senior Service Hydrologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2019 is already on track to be one of riskiest years yet in terms of wildfires as the dry season is already well ahead of the average drought cycle. This year has been identified as a “weak El Niño.” Rain has come down in large volumes at times, feeding the fire-prone brush that ignites very easily. These “leaky” phases of a weak El Niño do not last long and instead, long periods of dry conditions can persist, leaving many areas under “red flag” wildfire conditions (especially when winds pick up and humidity drops).

Elizabeth Pickett, Executive Director of HWMO presented our Vegetation Management Mapping Project at the meeting, as well. She did an amazing job showing the community what we have been able to create over the past few years. After working with over 200 large landowners to record different land areas, we have put together maps displaying management of wildfire fuel throughout the State of Hawaii. It was extremely beneficial to the greater community to learn about whether certain regions of vegetation are being managed, and how they are being managed to prevent wildfires. This information will also help landowners track down funding and knowledge to better manage these areas that have overgrown vegetative fuels. HWMO is proud of the fact that we are helping communities become more knowledgeable and prepared to prevent costly disasters from occurring. 

Elizabeth Pickett discussing HWMOʻs vegetative fuels mapping project

Elizabeth Pickett discussing HWMOʻs vegetative fuels mapping project

Kawika Smith from the Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) also presented on the various suppression techniques they use to mitigate wildfires on over 650,000 areas of land managed by DOFAW statewide. He went into the importance and methods of protecting Hawaiian ecosystems and watersheds from disastrous wildfires. 

Kawika Smith discussing county and federal assistance with wildfire mitigation

Kawika Smith discussing county and federal assistance with wildfire mitigation

There were many other individuals and entities that made an important impact during this Annual Brushfire Meeting, and we would like to thank everyone that attended for being there. Taking part in community events like this one help to make a real difference in keeping the communities of Kauai safe, as well as protecting the fragile ecosystems and watersheds of Hawaii.  

We would also like to show our deepest gratitude to the Kauai Fire Department for using their time and energy to put on such an impactful event. The amount of good that can come out of mitigation efforts such as this can help to reduce the risk of disastrous wildfires when the whole community gets together in the name of knowledge sharing. Mahalo KFD for making this happen.  

Hawaii State Capitol Legislative Outreach

Senator Keith-Agaran with HWMO staff during the office visits on February 20.

Senator Keith-Agaran with HWMO staff during the office visits on February 20.

Legislators are an important player in advancing wildfire protection funding and support. HWMO spent a full day at the Hawaii State Capitol on February 20 knocking on doors and visiting with various legislators and their aides to stress the importance of funding proactive wildfire projects with a busy fire year ahead. The timeliness of these visits was critical since HWMO has submitted a State Grant-In-Aid application to fund wildfire prevention and preparedness activities, including the Wildfire LOOKOUT! campaign.

Mahalo Representative David Tarnas, Senator Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran, Senator Dru Kanuha, and Representative Stacelynn K.M. Eli for meeting with us in person.

Firewise Update Presentation with Kailapa Community Association Annual Meeting

Several updates were given at the meeting, including from HWMO.

Several updates were given at the meeting, including from HWMO.

On January 13, HWMO’s Pablo Beimler joined Kailapa Community Association for their annual meeting, which drew dozens of community members from the Hawaiian homestead community in Kawaihae. Pablo shared updates on the upcoming wildfire season, ReadySetGo! and Wildfire LOOKOUT! tips, and Firewise Communities information. Kailapa has been a nationally-recognized Firewise Community since 2016 and they continue to do a stellar job of taking action within the community to protect their area from wildfire. Mahalo Kailapa!

Hawaii Wildfire Summit 2018

Over the years, HWMO has come to understand that wildfire-related challenges are faced by a wide array of professionals and citizens, including more than just those focused on emergency response. HWMO, through a grant from the U.S. Forest Service, held the first ever Hawaii Wildfire Summit between April 30 and May 4 at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows to bring together not just fire professionals, but people working in riparian and marine conservation, cultural resource protection, the visitor industry, planning professionals, and community groups from across Hawaii, the Western Pacific, and the rest of the U.S.

Pre-Summit: NFPA Assessing Structural Ignition Potential for Wildfire Course

The first two days were dedicated to the NFPA course on Assessing Structural Ignition Potential from Wildfire. Participants included firefighters, land managers, and homeowners who learned the ins and outs of fire and its interaction with the built environment. Wildland fire expert, Pat Durland, who traveled from the mainland to teach the course, also shared valuable information on the latest research for improving the survivability of a home during a wildfire.

Hawaii Wildfire Summit 2018 - NFPA ASIP Training
Hawaii Wildfire Summit 2018 - Lei Making Party 5/1/18

Summit Main Event

The main event began on Wednesday, May 2, kicking off two days packed with presentations and workshops from over 40 speakers, including our two keynote speakers, Gloria Edwards of Southern Rockies Fire Science Network and Dr. Steve Quarles of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. A wealth of knowledge was shared throughout the summit by these speakers with the diverse audience. Speakers highlighted lessons learned, best practices and innovations in wildfire protection. Check out the list of speakers and their bios by clicking the buttons below.

Hawaii Wildfire Summit 2018 - Summit Day 1 5/2/18
Hawaii Wildfire Summit 2018 - Summit Day 2 5/3/18

HWMO emphasized the importance of using creativity and outside-the-box thinking to get out of our comfort zones, a point that keynote speaker Gloria Edwards so eloquently urged in her presentation. To spur creativity and collaborative dialogue, HWMO encouraged participants to take part in several activities during the breaks and the first evening's meet-and-greet:

* A collaborative Summit to Sea art project
* A collaborative ideas sharing space
* Casting ballots for a statewide youth wildfire prevention bookmark contest. Submissions were from students at Kamaile Academy in Waianae and Kohala and Waikoloa Schools on Hawaii Island. 


Smokin' Word

To cap off the event and to further encourage participants to use their creativity and get out of their comfort zones, we held a "Smokin' Word" open mic. Various brave volunteers, from local fire chiefs to representatives from national programs, gave spoken word performances about "why we do what we do, what we are aiming to protect, and to ignite applause and laughter." We were extremely pleased to see our colleagues dig into their creative space and shake off some nerves to share their great pieces. Professional spoken word artist (and HWMO Community Outreach Coordinator), Pablo Akira Beimler, rounded out the open mic with a performance of his poem in tribute to the summit and all of the inspiring work happening by the people in the room to make Hawaii a better, safer place to live. 

We also had a great turnout of Firewise Community members from Hawaii Island and Maui-- almost all Firewise Communities in Hawaii were represented! Firewise committee members Lisa Chu-Thielbar (Kanehoa), Gordon Firestein (Launiupoko), and Diane Makaala Kanealii (Honokoa) presented lessons learned and background about their Firewise efforts during the general session on the 2nd day. We had a Firewise gathering at the end of the 2nd day where participants played "get to know you bingo" to frantically and comically break the ice. From this point onward, HWMO is committed to forming a statewide peer learning network between all of the Firewise Communities. 

Hawaii Wildfire Summit 2018 - Post-Summit Activities


Field Workshop

On the final day of the summit, a large group of the summit attendees hopped aboard vehicles to caravan around the South Kohala area to visualize much of what was discussed indoors at the Mauna Lani. The Pacific Fire Exchange field workshop began at the Upper Waikoloa Road Intersection to ground the participants in a sense of place and seeing a landscape-level view of the summit-to-sea watersheds of South Kohala. Then, it was on to Wai Ulaula Waimea Nature Park, where participants learned about watershed planning and about the local native forest. The following stop helped participants understand the wildfire threat that threatens the native forests and the subsequent post-fire flooding that has vastly impacted Hawaii's shorelines. What better place to talk about wildfire than in Kawaihae, where the 2014 wildfire burned thousands of acres and threatened many homes, burned millions of dollars of timber, and post-fire flooding shut down businesses and impacted the livelihoods of local residents. Representatives from Hawaii County Fire Department and National Park Service shared their lessons learned from responding to the massive fire. 

After lunch with a beautiful view of the South Kohala Coastline and a jolt from an earthquake in Kilauea, the group walked to the Puu Kohola Heiau visitor center to learn the history of the sacred site. The group then walked along a trail to learn more about the conditions that are ripe for wildfire in Kawaihae. They continued walking down to Pelekane Bay, the site of intense post-fire runoff and coral reef decay. 

The field workshop ended in Puako where Peter Hackstedde shared about the community's efforts to create a large fuelbreak behind homes and their recent Firewise Community recognition efforts. Paniau was the final stop and a nice place to wrap-up the summit to sea discussion. Some workshop participants stayed for a snorkel tour of the reef. 

Great job, Melissa Kunz, on coordinating such a smooth, exciting, and informative field workshop!

Hawaii Wildfire Summit 2018 - Field Workshop 5/4/18

Here is a thank you letter from our Executive Director, Elizabeth Pickett, to the summit participants:

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PFX/HWMO Palehua Wildfire Mitigation Strategies Workshop and Field Tour

Opening circle and prayer to begin the day.

Opening circle and prayer to begin the day.

Pacific Fire Exchange (PFX) and HWMO linked up on July 17 to hold an exciting day of fun and learning in Palehua, just mauka of Makakilo on Oʻahu. PFX’s Clay Trauernicht, Melissa Kunz, and Elizabeth Pickett spent several weeks planning this wildfire mitigation strategies workshop that led into a field tour as a follow-up to a workshop they put on at the PICCC conference several months ago. HMMO’s Pablo Beimler also joined the workshop as a helping hand. The Palehua workshop was tied into the Hawaiʻi Conservation Conference as a pre-conference event that interested conservationists could attend. Thirty or so people from various agencies and organizations including National Park Service, Honolulu Fire Department, Fed Fire, DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and University of Hawaiʻi joined the event. 

The day kicked off with a workshop at Palehua Camp, formerly Camp Timberline, amongst tall trees and with scenic views of the Ewa area below. Clay Trauernicht gave a brief presentation on fire science using data he was synthesizing from the HWMO fire history database. Some interesting new factoids included:

* 75% of fires in Hawaiʻi are accidental

* 75% of fires in Hawaiʻi occur under drought conditions

* Over 80% of areas burned in Hawaiʻi are grassland/shrubland areas

Clay also shared about values at risk and their vulnerabilities. He adapted an equation he learned from a recent climate adaptation workshop, to fit into the fire science framework:

Vulnerability = exposure (fire hazards) + resource sensitivity (sensitivity to fire) — adaptive capacity (wildfire mitigation)

Elizabeth followed Clay’s presentation by highlighting various mitigation strategies. With these presentations in mind, the participants broke into groups for a computer-based activity. The groups picked a “designated mouse driver” and dug into the wildfire hazards and values at risk in Palehua using Google Earth. Once they determined areas of concern and the hazards that threatened those areas, they determined mitigation strategies they could apply to the area to reduce the fire hazard. They then shared their findings with the rest of the workshop participants. Anu and McD, two men who knew Palehua on the back of their hands, blessed us with examples of mitigation strategies they had actually implemented or planned to implement in the area. 

Breaking out into groups to discuss wildfire mitigation strategies for Palehua.

Breaking out into groups to discuss wildfire mitigation strategies for Palehua.

Scanning through Google Earth to determine areas of concern and wildfire hazards in Palehua.

Scanning through Google Earth to determine areas of concern and wildfire hazards in Palehua.

The workshop then shifted into a field tour as participants hopped into vans for the afternoon. The first stop was an overlook area where one could see where the 2014 Makakilo fire started and took off. The fire was an intense one that killed over 200 wiliwili trees and charred several homes. Mikiʻala Akiona, Public Education Specialist for Honolulu Fire Department, noted how difficult the fire was to suppress due to the many hot spots and restarts that occurred. The group then stopped towards the top of Palehua at a ranch-style building called Hokuloa, which had been used as a staging area and command center for large fires. Participants learned about the importance of having the right fittings for water tanks (as well as the need for suction hoses) and for creating fuelbreaks horizontal to the slope. Throughout this discussion, the participants had a spectacular view of central Oʻahu, which became increasingly obscured by a large rain cloud headed their way. 

Looking out over the area where the Makakilo 2014 fire started.

Looking out over the area where the Makakilo 2014 fire started.

Group photo in front of Nānakuli backdrop.

Group photo in front of Nānakuli backdrop.

Rain cloud headed towards the group while looking towards Kunia.

Rain cloud headed towards the group while looking towards Kunia.

Back of Nānakuli Valley where remnant native forests still exist.

Back of Nānakuli Valley where remnant native forests still exist.

The group then traveled up to a cabin for views of the north side of Palehua, where the discussion turned its focus toward the 2016 Nānakuli Fire that threatened homes and resources such as communication towers. The final stop added a little bit of adventure to the day. The participants hiked up to the top of Mauna Kapu through bamboo forests, stopping for a chant led by Anu before reaching the sacred peak. Once atop the mauna, Gary Gill, a large landowner in the area, gave background on how special the place they were surrounded by was. The area used to have one of the highest concentrations of native tree snails, but the population had been steadily declining within the last couple of years. There were several populations of different varieties of native birds still calling the area their home. Previous fires had burned ʻiliahi forests in the back of Nānakuli Valley, but about half of them had recovered, although they were much more stunted in growth than before. 

The workshop and field tour was a memorable one for us all and we hope that the valuable lessons and conversations that took place were of value for all of the participants. Mahalo to all who came out for a special day in Palehua.  

PFX-HWMO Wildfire Mitigation Strategies Workshop and Field Tour of Palehua 7/17/17

Waiʻanae Coast Disaster Readiness Fair 2017

Waiʻanae Coast Disaster Readiness Fair booths.

Waiʻanae Coast Disaster Readiness Fair booths.

HWMO was invited by Waiʻanae Coast Disaster Preparedness Team to set-up an outreach booth at this year’s Waiʻanae Coast Disaster Readiness Fair at the Waiʻanae Mall. The June 3rd event hosted a variety of different wildfire readiness organizations, some of whom also held workshops. We spoke to many different residents from across the Waiʻanae region and handed out Ready Set Go!, Wildfire Lookout!, and Firewise Communities materials to educate people on wildfire readiness. Some visitors also shared their close encounters with wildfires.

Throughout the day, strong trade winds kept us all on high alert, not only because fire danger is greater when they are blowing, but also because our handouts and outreach materials were at risk of blowing away. Indeed, at the tail end of the event, our tent was no match for the winds and tipped over, knocking out flyers over. Thankfully, emergency responders were all over the place and were quick to collect the materials speedily and in coordinated fashion. A small testament to why we love being a part of the emergency management field!

Waianae Coast Disaster Readiness Fair 6/3/17

Wildfire Preparedness Month ʻOhana Day at Kipuka Oweowe

Preparing plants and field equipment for a day of planting and wildfire discussion at Kipuka Oweowe in Puʻuwaʻawaʻa.

Preparing plants and field equipment for a day of planting and wildfire discussion at Kipuka Oweowe in Puʻuwaʻawaʻa.

To wrap up a busy May of wildfire readiness events, DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife’s Nāpuʻu Conservation Project held an official Wildfire Preparedness Month event at Kīpuka Oweowe in Puʻuwaʻawaʻa. Each month, Nāpuʻu holds an ʻOhana Day, inviting volunteers to come plant a variety of native species, common and rare/endangered, in the lama-dominated forest restoration project.

This month’s ʻOhana Day was wrapped into Wildfire Preparedness Month. HWMO’s Pablo Beimler joined volunteers in the morning by helping plant natives in the beautiful, peaceful forest setting. As part of a potluck lunch, Pablo then shared background on the history of wildfires and fire management in the Puʻuwaʻawaʻa region. Others talked story about their experiences with fire in the area. It was great to spend time in the forest with good people who were all forest stewards and truly embodied Mālama ʻĀina. They also walked away with more knowledge on wildfires and fire preparedness, as well as Wildfire Lookout! and Ready Set Go! materials.

We thank everyone who participated in a fun and successful Wildfire Preparedness Month this May!

Wildfire Prep Month Ohana Day at Kipuka Oweowe 5/27/17

Wildfire Lookout! Statewide School Distribution

In what may be one of HWMO’s most ambitious efforts, we set out to distribute as many Wildfire Lookout! flyers to as many schools as we could on the leeward sides of each of the major islands in Hawaiʻi. With boxes upon boxes of Wildfire Lookout! flyers stuffed into suitcases, HWMO’s Elizabeth Pickett and Pablo Beimler visited over 50 schools on Kauaʻi, Maui, Oʻahu, and Hawaiʻi Island from May 22-24 and distributed a total of nearly 25,000 flyers. Those flyers were included in students’ final take-home packets before the summer (and peak fire season) begun.

The outreach push was made possible thanks to Grant-In-Aid from the State and was another highlight of Wildfire Preparedness Month this year. Thank you to all of the schools’ staff for helping distribute flyers to students (some schools posted the flyers in the office, library, cafeteria, or other common spaces). 

Banner photo: Waimea Canyon school with recent wildfire-scarred area in background.

Wildfire Lookout! Statewide School Distribution May 2017

Wildfire Readiness Presentation with Rotary Club of West Kauaʻi

HWMO continued its tour to meet various Rotary Clubs across the state this year on Kauaʻi. At the Saddle Room Restaurant in Waimea Canyon, we presented to a group of twelve Rotarians from the Rotary Club of West Kauaʻi on May 23. As a matter of happenstance, there had been a large wildfire in Waimea Canyon a week or so before the presentation, so residents in the area were already on high alert.

May 2017 Waimea Canyon fire aftermath.

May 2017 Waimea Canyon fire aftermath.

We started by hearing stories from various residents who had witnessed the fire (and one who was even a responder from a contracting company that works in the area). We then shared information on how residents could get more involved with HWMO and prepare for peak fire season — information we have been working hard to spread throughout the month of May as part of Wildfire Preparedness Month. Each Rotarian at the meeting took home a Ready Set Go! Guide and Wildfire Lookout! flyer. We thank Rotary Club of West Kauaʻi for the opportunity to speak at their meeting!