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!
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!
There are many careers out there that can have a positive impact on reducing wildfire risk, from teachers to planners to farmers and everything in between. That was the theme of our day on October 24th as we visited Waimea Middle School as one of the presenters for this year’s Career Exploration Day. To get this message across with the students we met with, we played a “Build a Fire Adapted Community” game. Students answered questions on wildfire impacts on our watershed model. With each correct answer, they were given metal clips which they would creatively use to piece together popsicle sticks that have various features of a Fire Adapted Community written on them. The test: to build a strong bridge of community connection that could withstand a bucket full of heavy rocks! We were impressed by the innovative linkages the students made and many of the bridges withstood the heavy brunt of rocks (symbolizing a wildfire).
So many future leaders and community connectors on the horizon!
HWMO once again teamed up with Malama Kai Foundation’s Ocean Warriors program to educate middle school students about wildfire issues and solutions. The Ocean Warriors program is a youth environmental engagement and empowerment program that has kids become directly involved in projects, be a part of bigger solutions, raise money toward open space protection, and save vulnerable wild spaces, including those vulnerable to wildfire.
At Paniau Beach in Puako, the kids learned from HWMO staff (Elizabeth, Tom, Orlando, Melissa) the importance of preventing wildfire in order to protect the entire watershed from summit to sea.
HWMO’s Pablo Akira Beimler traveled to Waianae to set up an outreach table at the Waianae Coast Disaster Readiness Fair. The event was organized by the Waianae Coast Disaster Readiness Team who is doing incredible work in the community to better prepare Waianae residents for emergencies. At the Waianae Mall event on June 2, we handed out ReadySetGo! wildland fire action guides, Firewise Communities information, keiki swag, and more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Here is a thank you letter from our Executive Director, Elizabeth Pickett, to the summit participants:
As part of a way to celebrate the upcoming Hawaii Wildfire Summit and Wildfire Preparedness Day, HWMO met with middle school students from several schools and youth programs and had them participate in a youth "Prevent Wildfire" bookmark contest. Students represented Kamaile Academy, Kohala Middle and High School, Waikoloa Middle School, and the Malama Kai Foundation Ocean Warriors program. The artwork they produced conveyed several messages that they could choose from:
"Prevent wildfires to protect our ocean"
"Prevent wildfires to protect our forests"
"Prevent wildfires to protect our communities"
23 of the bookmark entries were selected by the HWMO staff to be voted on at the Hawaii Wildfire Summit on May 2 and 3.
We are excited to announce the winners of the contest as determined by the many participants who took the time and thought to cast their ballots at the summit.
Congratulations to our winners and mahalo to all of the youth participants in this year's art contest. Special thanks to Jameil Saez, STEM teacher at Kamaile Academy, and Elizabeth Pickett of the Malama Kai Foundation Ocean Warriors program.
HWMO once again teamed up with Malama Kai Foundation’s Ocean Warriors program to educate middle school students about wildfire issues and solutions. The Ocean Warriors program is a youth environmental engagement and empowerment program that has kids become directly involved in projects, be a part of bigger solutions, raise money toward open space protection, and save vulnerable wild spaces, including those vulnerable to wildfire. At Spencer Beach, the kids learned from HWMO staff the importance of preventing wildfire in order to protect the entire watershed from summit to sea. They then had the opportunity to turn their newfound knowledge into spoken word. HWMO’s Pablo Akira Beimler — Community Outreach Coordinator by day, slam poet by night — gave tips on how to write spoken word poetry, which the kids then turned into their own environmental poetry…and their poetry and performances did not disappoint! Such bright future artists and leaders!
It may have been freezing cold up in the saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, but that didn’t stop HWMO and other organizations committed to protecting the environment from educating youth from all over the island. HWMO set up a booth at the Pohakuloa Training Area on April 20th to teach keiki of all ages about the mauka to makai (summit-to-sea) impacts of wildfire.
Our dry forests are so critical to the health of our leeward areas in Hawaii. It’s no wonder that so many organizations working to protect the dry forests came together on March 9th at Puuwaawaa to outreach with hundreds of students. Puuwaawaa was formed over 110,000 years ago and is home to a rich diversity of native plants and animals — which are all at risk of devastating wildfires that have burned through the area before. HWMO held a booth to talk about the mauka to makai (summit-to-sea) impacts of wildfire with smiling and interested keiki from all over the island.