In August of this year, a 4,000-plus acre wildfire threatened a number of homes and businesses in the Kawaihae area. Nearly a week later, heavy rainfall swept the exposed, loose, post-fire soil and debris through stream channels and roads, creating flash flood conditions that caused further evacuations. The clear connection between wildfires, flooding, and smothering of coral reefs during the event led us to create a YouTube video titled: Kawaihae Fire and Flood - Mauka to Makai Impacts.
Although the current El Niño brought Hawaii a wet summer, very dry conditions are forecasted this winter. Drought during past El Niños has led to some of Hawaii’s largest wildfires on both windward and leeward sides. The next Kawaihae fire could be right around the corner.
With the recent wildfires and El Niño predictions in mind, HWMO assembled a group of five enthusiastic students from Waimea Middle School who were eager to complete a community wildfire prevention or preparedness project. Kyren Martins, Zakahry Murakami-Mattos, Kawehi Bell-Kaopuiki, Zariah Rivera, and Jamin-Quinn Lee Rillanos joined the Youth Wildfire Prep Team in November, working on projects they developed and executed on their own. Mr. Martins and Mr. Rillanos each created their own wildfire prevention signs; Mr. Murakami-Mattos is currently creating a “good versus bad defensible space” video; and Ms. Bell-Kaopuiki and Ms. Rivera teamed up to remove flammable plant debris from the Mālaʻai Culinary Garden.
The action team was originally inspired by a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) national call to action for youth from ages 13 to 22. Students from around the country were urged to implement their own wildfire prevention or preparedness project between September 1st and November 15th with the chance of being selected as a $500 “TakeAction” community service funding award recipient.
HWMO is pleased to announce that Mr. Martins was selected as one of ten national recipients. Mr. Martins, whose family was directly affected by the Kawaihae fire and subsequent floods in August, made and installed a wildfire prevention sign at the edge of his home, which is visible from the road. Kyren’s message about preventing cigarette ignitions alongside the road will certainly have an impact considering a number of people drive by their home everyday. Mr Martins has elected to use the reward for future educational costs.
Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization thanks the Youth Wildfire Prep Team for their enthusiasm, hard work, and overall commitment to helping protect their community from the growing threat of wildfire. HWMO also congratulates Mr. Martins for receiving the national award. We plan to work with other students throughout the state on similar projects, using Waimea’s Prep Team as a model for future collaborations.