local fires

South Kohala CDP Action Committee Presentation

Pablo Beimler pointing to a map of wildfire hazards in Northwest Hawaiʻi Island during the CDP presentation. Credit - David Tarnas

Pablo Beimler pointing to a map of wildfire hazards in Northwest Hawaiʻi Island during the CDP presentation. Credit - David Tarnas

On July 24, HWMO gave a presentation at the South Kohala Community Development Plan Action Committee meeting at the Waimea Senior Center. A Community Development Plan, CDP for short, provides an opportunity for community input for establishing County policies that can then be put into action. Wildfire is featured in the South Kohala CDP, especially considering South Kohala is known for the largest brushfires in the entire state. As a reminder to why wildfire is included in the CDP, we shared to a couple dozen people, including the Action Committee, about the various fire hazards that threaten communities in South Kohala. The threats are not just vegetation and environmental conditions, but also building materials, subdivision-level hazards (such as poor access and ingress/egress), lack of water access, and not enough community engagement. 

Our presentation was preceded by a presentation from our partners from South Kohala Coastal Partnership. Julia Rose, the Marine Coordinator for SKCP, highlighted how wildfires directly impacted our nearshore resources, especially after large post-fire storm events. The Kawaihae fire was a topic of discussion during the meeting. The enormous fire in 2015 charred thousands of acres, but soon thereafter, a large storm dropped heavy rain in the area that led to dangerous flooding, shutting down roads and businesses and forcing evacuations of residents. Planning for fire is necessary to ensure events like these are prevented and we hope to see the CDP continue to integrate wildfire concerns and actions into the planning process, whether from integrating WUI codes and ordinances to finding ways to increase public participation in wildfire solutions.

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

Ocean Warriors Wildfire Lessons and Activities at Spencer Beach

Ocean Warriors learning about Rapid ʻOhia Death and how they can prevent the spread.

Ocean Warriors learning about Rapid ʻOhia Death and how they can prevent the spread.

Learning the fire cycle is key to understanding the bigger picture of how wildfire changes our landscapes. When a wildfire burns a native forest in Hawaiʻi, the forest does not fully recover. Instead, invasive grasses, shrubs, and trees take over and crowd out native species. These invasive plants tend to be wildfire hazards and actually encourage fire to help them reproduce. The next human-caused fire will burn these plants and burn further into the forest. And thus, the cycle continues.

Ocean Warrior scanning area for clues to previous fires, including charred tree stumps.

Ocean Warrior scanning area for clues to previous fires, including charred tree stumps.

HWMO demonstrated this concept through a fun, interactive game with the Malama Kai Ocean Warriors program run by HWMO’s very own Elizabeth Pickett. The youth stewardship program linked with us on June 13 as a group of middle schoolers from Kohala met with us at Spencer Beach in Kawaihae. By playing a game of “fire tag,” similar to “red rover,” the students acted out how the fire cycle impacts our natural resources. After playing the game, we took the students on a short walk along the Ala Kahakai Trail towards Mauʻumae Beach. This stretch of trail had burned numerous times in recent years, with less and less native plants to burn each time. We encouraged the students to look for clues that indicate that fires had burned the coastline. In the end, the students were able to look at a familiar area with a different set of lenses, or what we like to call “fire goggles.”

Ocean Warriors Wildfire Lessons and Activities at Spencer Beach 6/13/17

Hawaiʻi Kai Community Safety Town Hall Meeting

Packed house for the Hawaiʻi Kai Community Safety Town Hall Meeting on June 6, 2017.

Packed house for the Hawaiʻi Kai Community Safety Town Hall Meeting on June 6, 2017.

Cameron Sato (left), Office of Senator Stanley Chang, and Pablo Beimler (right), HWMO in front of Kamilonui Valley burn scar.

Cameron Sato (left), Office of Senator Stanley Chang, and Pablo Beimler (right), HWMO in front of Kamilonui Valley burn scar.

As part of a double-header of community safety events in Hawaiʻi Kai, Representative Gene Ward, Senator Stanley Chang, Councilmember Trevor Ozawa, and Senator Laura Thielen again teamed up, this time to hold a public safety town hall meeting on June 6. Just the night before, HWMO gave a workshop on wildfire readiness to fifty or so community members. At the June 6 meeting, seventy-five people were in attendance to hear updates from Honolulu Fire Department, Honolulu Police Department, and HWMO.

Several community members also voiced their concerns about what they felt were safety issues in their community. After the meeting, we spoke with a number of community members regarding specific fire safety concerns in the area. HWMO will be following up in Hawaiʻi Kai with additional support for Firewise Communities certification and hopefully soon, a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. Big mahalo to Senators Chang and Thielen, Representative Ward, and Councilmember Ozawa for having us be speakers at the two meetings and to HFD, HPD, and DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife for their added support.

Hawaiʻi Kai Wildfire Safety Workshop

From left to right: Senator Laura Thielen, Captain David Jenkins (Honolulu FD), Cameron Sato (Senator Chang's Office), Kalama Pastor (Kamehameha Schools), Councilmember Trevor Ozawa, Senator Stanley Chang, Pablo Beimler (HWMO), Elizabeth Pickett (HWMO)

From left to right: Senator Laura Thielen, Captain David Jenkins (Honolulu FD), Cameron Sato (Senator Chang's Office), Kalama Pastor (Kamehameha Schools), Councilmember Trevor Ozawa, Senator Stanley Chang, Pablo Beimler (HWMO), Elizabeth Pickett (HWMO)

Hawaiʻi Kai residents have been on edge since the beginning of the year — over a dozen fires have been started near communities, one of which became a high-profile burn in Kamilonui Valley. Although most have been deemed suspicious by authorities, accidents can also happen (around 75% of brushfires in Hawaiʻi are accidental ignitions). With fire on the minds of so many residents, Senator Stanley Chang, Representative Gene Ward, Councilmember Trevor Ozawa, and Senator Laura Thielen worked across party lines to hold a Wildfire Safety Workshop on June 5 at Kamiloiki Elementary School.

HWMO had the honor of presenting an hour-long workshop highlighting wildfire readiness recommendations based on the Ready Set Go! and Wildfire Lookout! programs. We also worked to recruit people interested in being a part of Firewise Communities certification efforts. Our hope is that the fifty or so people who came out to the event will take action around their homes right away to create defensible space — but our even greater hope is that the community will start to come together for the larger goal of becoming a Firewise Community (or a couple of them).

Hawaii Kai Wildfire Safety Workshop 6/5/17

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!

Method to the Madness Podcast - HWMO Interview

HWMO Community Outreach Coordinator, Pablo Beimler (left) and Method to the Madness host, Niklas Lollo

On December 23, just before the holiday season was in full swing, HWMO's Community Outreach Coordinator, Pablo Beimler visited his alma mater, University of California, Berkeley, and was interviewed by Niklas Lollo, a current graduate student and co-host of the Method to the Madness podcast. The show, which airs regularly on KALX 90.7FM (staffed by students and community volunteers), celebrates "the innovative spirit of the Bay Area." Each episode, they "explore the people behind the ideas, what makes them tick, and why so many of them have come out of" the beautiful Bay Area.

Pablo Beimler was interviewed about various topics including the work HWMO does in the Pacific and his past experiences in the fire world.

During the interview, Pablo talked story about how HWMO came to existence and the innovative work our organization is doing to safeguard communities and natural areas in Hawaii. Topics ranged from the differences between wildfire behavior on the islands and on the mainland, Firewise Communities, the Pacific Fire Exchange, and what to expect in the coming years for wildfire management in Hawaii. Tune in and you'll also hear about some of Pablo's past experiences working in the Stephens Fire Science Lab at UC Berkeley and Lake Tahoe for CAL FIRE.


Big mahalo to Niklas Lollo and the folks over at KALX for dedicating a half hour of their air time and inviting us to be on the show!


 

Kailapa Firewise Community Hazard Assessment

Kailapa is a Hawaiian homestead in Kawaihae on over 10,000 acres from the shoreline to the base of Kohala Mountain. Homes there, first built in the late 1980s, are surrounded by very flammable grasslands that have experienced numerous fires over the years. Winds are a major factor in the extreme wildfire behavior that can occur in the area. The most recent threat occurred starting on August 8, 2015. The most recent threat occurred starting on August 8, 2015. A 4,5000-acre wildfire burned across Kawaihae, directly impacting local communities, businesses, and cultural sites in the area. Roads were closed and evacuations were ordered by Civil Defense for Kawaihae. Nearly 90% of the native plants at Puu Kohola were destroyed and large piles of timber from a eucalyptus harvest project in Hamakua were ablaze. The fire burned towards Kailapa, but firefighters were able to stop it a few gulches away. A week later, a large rainfall event washed unprecedented amounts of sediment and debris down the watersheds and out into the ocean, smothering neighboring coral reefs. Local residents recount that the floods were the worst in recent memory. HWMO produced a video documenting the events.

Assessment team looks out at the neighboring wildland areas that have burned numerous times.

The wildfire concerns in Kailapa have spurred the community to action. Since the beginning of 2016, a group of Kailapa residents have been working with HWMO to protect their community from wildfire by becoming a nationally-recognized Firewise Community. As one of the requirements, HWMO and Hawaii Fire Department conducted a community wildfire hazard assessment with Kailapa residents on November 3. Together, the assessment team caravanned throughout the community to note and photograph common wildfire hazards, as well as good Firewise practices already being implemented. The greatest concerns were the lack of water resources, ingress/egress, and fuels management between homes and in the surrounding wildland areas.

Living fuelbreak that was created in the spring of 2016 using U.S. Forest Service WUI grant funding through HWMO.

In the spring of 2016, Kailapa, with the facilitation of U.S. Forest Service WUI funds from HWMO, created a living fuelbreak on a slope on Kona side of the subdivision. The community would like to continue and expand project such as these throughout the subdivision to better protect homes from the dangers of wildfire in Kawaihae.

Kailapa is on pace to become the first Hawaiian homestead on Hawaii Island to be a certified Firewise Community. Great work Kailapa!

Kailapa Firewise Community Hazard Assessment 11/3/16

Puu Kapu Neighborhood Watch Presentation

Puu Kapu fire in April 2016. Photo credit: Brian Powers

Puu Kapu homesteads in Waimea on the Big Island was affected by a couple of wildfires earlier in 2016. One of the fires, back in April, was captured through the lens of local photographer Brian Powers. A home was surrounded by smoke and flames, but firefighters were courageously able to stop the fire from overtaking the structure. The harrowing experience, however, is just one of the many reminders that Puu Kapu is susceptible to fires, especially during drier periods. 

Officer May Lee giving a presentation to Puu Kapu Neighborhood Watch.

Hawaii Police Department’s Officer May Lee (South Kohala Community Police Officer) has been working with Puu Kapu and other local neighborhoods to create Neighborhood Watch groups. With fire on the mind due to recent events, Officer Lee invited HWMO to speak to Puu Kapu Neighborhood Watch members about wildfire preparedness. Community Outreach Coordinator Pablo Beimler, on September 29, met with residents at the DHHL meeting room in Waimea and gave a presentation detailing the Wildfire & Drought Look Out! campaign and the Ready, Set, Go! and Firewise Communities Recognition programs. Meeting participants were interested in the idea of Puu Kapu becoming a Firewise Community, which would potentially add another community to an already long list of new certified communities that HWMO is currently working with. 

Banner photo credit: Brian Powers

PFX Kahikinui Field Tour

When it comes to solving our most complex issues, it truly takes a village and the coming together of a myriad of backgrounds and expertise. 

PFX FIeld Tour begins at lookout on the eastern makai side of Kahikinui.

On August 29th, over 40 representatives from a number of organizations and stakeholder groups joined a field tour of Kahikinui on the southern slopes of Hāleakala. Organized by our partners from Pacific Fire Exchange and Leeward Hāleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership, the group caravanned to various sites to view the post-fire landscape that resulted from the February 2016 wildfire. The fire not only burned through native preserves and cultural sites, but also came dangerously close to homes. A few of the homesteaders of Kahikinui spoke during the field tour to share their experiences of the 2016 fire (and other fires that have given the community a scare). 

Firefighters share their experiences fighting fires in Kahikinui. Attendees listen in as they survey the land from the mauka edge of the fire. Photo Credit: Clay Trauernicht/PFX

Throughout the field tour, there were great open discussions regarding topics from grazing for fuels reduction to increasing water access and availability to fuelbreak creation with erosion control in mind. Mahalo to Clay Trauernicht and Melissa Kunz of Pacific Fire Exchange for their great facilitation of these discussions. Big shoutout also to Andrea Buckman and the LHWRP crew for bringing in much of the stakeholder and community groups. And of course, a big mahalo to Kahikinui homesteaders who were so gracious enough to have such a large group tour their community. Also mahalo to the groups who were represented at the field tour: Auwahi Wind, Department of Hawaiian Homelands, Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Hāleakala Ranch, KOOK, Aha Moku O Kaupō, Kaupō Ranch, KGLMO, Mauʻi County Council Don Couch, Mauʻi County Fire, Find Us 911, Mauʻi County Office of Economic Development, West Mauʻi Mountains Watershed Partnership and UH College of Tropical Agriculture & Human Resources.

Pablo Beimler (HWMO) shares Firewise Communities updates with the group. Photo credit: Chris Brosius, West Maui Mountains Watershed Partnership

HWMO is working with Kahikinui community members to help their homestead become one of the first nationally-recognized Firewise Communities on Mauʻi, along with Waiohuli and Launiupoko. In fact, the field tour counted towards their Firewise Event requirement - they are well on their way to 2016 certification!

PFX Kahikinui Field Tour 8/29/16