Waimea Middle School IKAIR Day - Wildfire Lesson

Waimea Middle School students traveled by the busloads to a variety of different service sites for this year's IKAIR Day. Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization played host to 15 students and their teacher and TA for a morning at the Waikoloa Dryland Wildfire Safety Park. HWMO's Tom Loomis led the students through a series of fun activities with the help of Education and Outreach Coordinator Pablo Beimler and GIS Specialist Orlando Smith. The day started with a special chant by the students followed by a quick introduction to what HWMO had in store for the group. To kick things off, students were each handed a puzzle piece with either a "heat", "oxygen", or "fuel" label on it and were told to match up with their matching pieces. Within a few minutes, everyone was part of a Fire Triangle - the basis for understanding how fires start and act. Students were then led up to the neighboring parking lot for a game of fire tag. Through the exciting game, students gained an understanding for how wildfires can dramatically change Hawaii's ecosystems: from native dryland forests to fire-prone grasslands. 

Mr. Loomis continued the morning with a discussion on the difference between urban firefighters and wildland firefighters. Of course, rather than lecturing about it, we played a card sorting game to show that wildland firefighters were unique in that they had to carry out all of their equipment to wildfires. On that note, students got up and dressed up as wildland firefighters with equipment generously donated by National Park Service and Division of Forestry and Wildlife. To show just how difficult being a wildland firefighter was, a few students put on heavy packs and ran around the garden - we were stoked to see so many pack test finishers! Running around with a pack was certainly part of wildland firefighting, but we were missing the key ingredient - putting out the fire. Students took part in a thrilling Bucket Brigade team building exercise. Two teams duked it out to fill up a water bucket, the catch being the designated firefighter had to toss water from one bucket to another to fill it up. On top of that, the rest of the team had to carry a bucket of water suspended on a large handkerchief that they had to hold and steadily carry over to the firefighter. It was a tight finish, but the winning team made a big splash!

As noon edged nearer, Mr. Loomis taught students the basic principles of Firewise landscaping and Hardening the Home. What it came down to was good housekeeping. To demonstrate, students helped pick up debris blown over by a neighboring non-native tree. Within minutes, the native garden was looking spick and span thanks to their help. As a closing activity, we set up a watershed diorama to replicate post-fire erosion and its negative impacts on coral reefs. 

We had an amazing time with the students who most importantly had fun and learned a lot. Before the day begun, most students labeled themselves as 1s and 2s on a scale of 1 through 10 (10 being "I know everything about wildfire"). At the end of the day, most labeled themselves as 6s and 7s, which made us extremely happy to see! 

Big mahalo to the students who came out and to Ms. Shafer and Ms. Diana and to Waimea Middle School for helping make this special day possible.

Banner photo: Waimea Middle School students huddle around to get a better look at Hawaii's wildfire history.