Wildfire Preparedness Day - Waikoloa Dryland Wildfire Safety Park 2014

May 3rd was the first ever National Wildfire Preparedness Day! Communities from across the nation rallied to hold events to help raise wildfire awareness, promote collaboration and bring neighbors together to work on projects that protect homes, neighborhoods and entire communities.

HWMO organized a day of fire preparedness fun and festivities at the Waikoloa Dryland Wildfire Safety Park in Waikoloa Village on Melia Street. HWMO partnered with Hawaii Fire Department, Waikoloa Community Association, Waikoloa Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative, and Malama Kai Foundation to put on the event. 

As part of our prevention efforts, we created the first and only fire preparedness demonstration garden in Hawaii. The Waikoloa Dryland Wildfire Safety Park demonstrates how to reduce the impacts of wildfires through defensible space, Firewise landscaping and fire resistant building materials. This garden is primarily made up of low-maintenance, native Hawaiian species that are resistant to drought, wind, and heat. The garden also exhibits Firewise principles including various landscaping techniques and maintenance guidelines for zones around the home: 10 ft., 30 ft., and 100+ ft. 

The event kicked off with a garden tour led by an Ocean Warriors student, followed by opening speeches from Hawaii Fire Department's Chief Darren Rosario, HWMO's Vice President Sam Patten, and HWMO's Executive Director Elizabeth Pickett. The crowd continued to grow as the opening ceremony progressed as more families arrived. To add to the excitement, Hawaii Fire Department's firefighters arrived in an ambulance and fire truck, segueing into the next activity: tours of the apparatuses. A dozen or so keiki met with firefighters to learn about the ins-and-outs of being a firefighter and the cool tools and devices they get to use. There were waves of smiles from the keiki, who were brimming from the excitement of such a unique opportunity to connect with the firefighting community. 

Following the firefighter meet-and-greet, the crowd gathered in the garden and began to plant the 230+ native dryland plants (including 'ihi, pohinahina, and 'ilima papa) that HWMO hauled in for the event. With the incredible help from our community members, we were able to plant each and every start in the garden - 230+ plants in under two hours of planting! 

After the plantings, the crowd moved under the tents for a craft event - Ocean Warriors, Future Foresters, and other keiki helpers designed and painted signs with wildfire prevention messages that will eventually be placed around the Waikoloa community. During the session, people grabbed delicious, organic Thai food, smoothies, and gelato from Lotus Cafe, who had set up a tent for the event. The event concluded with short talks by Jen Lawson of the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative, who explained the importance of restoring the native dry forest, and the Waikoloa CERT team, who ran through evacuation protocols and routes.

On behalf of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and State Farm® Insurance, we received a $500 funding award for the event. The contest for the award was extremely competitive, spanning over 25 states - only 20 out of 84 projects were selected. This was a testament to how much progress has been made in adding Hawaii's wildfire issues to the national radar screen and how much more integrated Hawaii is in nationwide and Pacific-wide wildfire mitigation efforts.

We'd like to send out a special thank you to NFPA and State Farm®, Lotus Cafe, our dedicated partners, and the enthusiastic community members who made Wildfire Preparedness Day a wonderful success! Mahalo!

Another thanks to West Hawaii Today for covering the event on the front page of the Sunday paper!

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Banner photo: Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative's Future Foresters, Waikoloa CERT, Malama Kai Foundation's Ocean Warriors, and Hawaii Fire Department team up with HWMO for the event.