Firewise Communities

Puʻu Anahulu's Firewise Hazard Assessment is a first step towards becoming a Firewise Community

The terrain of this beautiful landscape is rough, and varies from a vast lava fields covered in dry fountain grass, to dense forests that are interspersed in and around the community. The steep gullies and hills that surround the community make it a landscape that is immediately intriguing, and definitely a challenge when it comes to fire-suppression. The Puʻu Anahulu Community on Hawaiʻi Island is located on the upper road between Waimea and Kona. They participated in their Firewise Hazard Assessment on October 16, 2019, and their wealth of knowledge about the area and it’s history fire was clear during the assessment.

Stop #4, the Historic Puʻu Anahulu Baptist Church

Stop #4, the Historic Puʻu Anahulu Baptist Church

The hazard assessment was extremely educational for the community as they worked with professionals from Hawaii Fire Department, Department of Forestry and Wildlife, the National Parks Service, the US Army Fire and Emergency Services, and Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization. As one unit, we went around the community to pre-planned areas where we could see the wildfire risk-potential, and understand what would happen in the case of a wildfire. “The majority of the work that saves a home during a wildfire is done long before a wildfire threatens a property” added Chief Muller, the US Army Fire Fire Chief. “This is an isolated community so it takes resources and extra time to get here. If the community is working to manage their own (fire risk), It will help the partnership for all of us”, said Chief Darwin Okinaka. “the bottom line is that we won’t put any personnel in danger to save a house. If the opportunity is there to save a house we will do it, but if the risk is too great, we may not be able to.”

Wanda Rowan, Puʻu Anahulu Resident sharing her knowledge of wildfire in the area.

Wanda Rowan, Puʻu Anahulu Resident sharing her knowledge of wildfire in the area.

This points to the fact that the real reason households within a community can stay safe during a wildfire is because of the work that has been done to not only create defensible space for fire personnel to safely defend a structure, but to ensure that the structure itself, and the vegetation immediately surrounding will not combust in the case of a nearby fire. With the prevalence of wildfires in Hawaii growing by over 400% since the 1960s, it is vital that homeowners take necessary precautions in case a wildfire does approach. Embers can be a very sneaky intruders through vents, igniting the flammable interiors of homes, yet can be stopped by 1/8th inch stainless steel mesh screening. The vegetation around a house also can be thought of as the potential kindling of a campfire. If there are dry branches, leaves, and twigs right underneath/next to the larger combustible material, it will allow the campfire log (or in this case, the side of a home) to become hot enough to combust, creating a structure fire. Simple firewise landscaping and building techniques can help a home withstand a wildfire, even if it comes within close proximity of the building.

Volunteer Fire Department personnel Steven Hyde speaks with the group at the northern boundary of the community.

Volunteer Fire Department personnel Steven Hyde speaks with the group at the northern boundary of the community.

While there are many different reasons why the Puʻu Anahulu community could become threatened in the case of wildfire, the first step to increase the communityʻs safety is to identify what exactly the hazards are that they are going to address. Once the hazard are addressed, then action to address those hazards should be a priority to help the families throughout the community protect the homes from fire. “(I am) Optimistic; the the greatest journeys start with the first step, and I think that is what we’re on; the first step. It will take many steps before we are able to get to our goal, but together, it will be a great journey” Concluded Chief Muller.

HWMO would like to extend a sincere thank-you to all of the safety personnel that came to participate in the Community Hazard Assessment yesterday; it was their experience fighting wildfire that made it possible for us to accurately identify the risks of the area. Also, a big mahalo to the Puʻu Anahulu community members that are putting in the effort necessary to keep their community prepared for wildfire.

Kamilonui-Mariner's Cove Memorial Day Weekend Wildfire Mitigation Project

Representative Gene Ward joins the cause this past weekend.

Representative Gene Ward joins the cause this past weekend.

As a very fitting tribute to Memorial Day, a collaboration of people including military veterans from Team Rubicon, an international veteran service organization that uses disaster response to help reintegrate veterans back into civilian life, came out in full force to create a large firebreak around Kamilonui-Mariner’s Cove. The Firewise Community (the first ever on Oahu as of this year!) of agricultural and residential lots in Hawaii Kai, has been working with HWMO for a couple of years now in an effort to create a more wildfire resilient community.

Carol Jaxon (left) and Elizabeth Reilly (middle) have been instrumental in moving Firewise Communities project forward in Kamilonui-Mariner’s Cove. We cannot thank them enough!

Carol Jaxon (left) and Elizabeth Reilly (middle) have been instrumental in moving Firewise Communities project forward in Kamilonui-Mariner’s Cove. We cannot thank them enough!

Big mahalo to Team Rubicon for the enormous time and effort they donated to the cause!

Big mahalo to Team Rubicon for the enormous time and effort they donated to the cause!

This weekend, as part of Wildfire Preparedness Day, we are seeing what it means to be fire-adapted: everyone playing a role to reduce wildfire risk. The Firewise committee consisting of local residents and farmers, Aloha Aina O Kamilo Nui, and Livable Hawaii Kai Hui organized the work days; Team Rubicon volunteers are knocking back fire fuels; neighboring landowners provided access to the land and green waste hauling services; residents are feeding volunteers; and HWMO provided a hazard assessment, continual guidance through the Firewise Communities process, and a $2,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service. We are so grateful to everyone who is helping out to make Kamilonui - Mariner’s Cove a model for community-driven wildfire protection on Oahu and for the rest of the Hawaiian Islands!

All photos courtesy of Aloha Aina O Kamilonui

Waikii Ranch 3rd Annual Firewise BBQ

Chief Eric Moller gives the latest wildfire conditions update.

Chief Eric Moller gives the latest wildfire conditions update.

Waikii Ranch became a Firewise Community in 2017 and has been going strong ever since in their community-based wildfire resilience efforts. On Saturday, May 18, HWMO’s Pablo Akira Beimler and Carson Magoon were invited to join residents for an info session and BBQ. We shared HWMO updates and stressed the importance of getting ready now rather than later for peak fire season.

U.S. Army-Garrison, FES Chief Eric Moller and Captain Bill Bergin from Hawaii Fire Department also gave brief presentations, reiterating the importance of Firewise landscaping, home fire-proofing, and evacuation planning (Ready, Set, Go!)

The food was delicious, and as an added bonus, each resident could take home a koaia tree to plant in their own yard as part of their Firewise landscaping.

West Kauaʻi Ready Set Go! Workshop and Home Ignition Zone Training

Earlier this week, Hawaiʻi Wildfire Management Organization traveled to West Kauaʻi to present the Ready Set Go! framework, and even practice those concepts in the field at the beautiful Kōkeʻe State Park.

HWMO Executive Director Elizabeth teaches what to look out for while assessing Home Ignition Zones.

HWMO Executive Director Elizabeth teaches what to look out for while assessing Home Ignition Zones.

It was great to hear from members of the community in Waimea the night before, and Pablo Beimler (HWMOʻs Community Outreach Coordinator) did a great job presenting the Ready Set Go! (RSG) framework. The RSG! program was devised by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and is a very useful tool, presenting the best practices for preventing unintended fires from happening in the first place, and then if they do happen, what steps to take and WHEN to take them. We were joined by representatives of the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW), and went over some of the actions that Waimea residents could take to prevent destructive wildfires.

The Ready Set Go! workshop participants.

The Ready Set Go! workshop participants.

The RSG! presentation was filled with information on how to reduce the risk of certain wildfire fuels surrounding your home, how to lessen the chances of wildfire spread from surrounding vegetation to your structure, as well as how to protect structures themselves from igniting, should the embers or flames from a fire come into contact. We all walked away with a little more knowledge on how protect ourselves, our homes, and our livelihoods from fire.

After Pabloʻs presentation, we learned a significant amount about the obstacles certain community members are up against while taking measures to reduce wildfire hazards around their properties and homes. The community members, agency representatives, and HWMO had time to converse and share ideas on the next steps that could be taken to reduce fire risk.

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The next morning, we met and went through a Home Ignition Zone (HIZ) score card at Kōkeʻe state park, where one cabin resident allowed us to assess the fire risk of built structures at his cabin. It was beneficial to put the knowledge we had gleamed the night before into direct use, and understand what phrases like ladder fuels, fire-prone brush, and defensible spaces meant while applying it to a real-life structure. Each member of that workshop left with a greater understanding of how fire can travel faster uphill, the risks of storing wood underneath your house that could easily act as kindling, and how tree branches growing right next to the eaves of your roof could ignite your structure. It was a beautiful day outside in the precious native forest of Kōkeʻe.

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We would like to thank the community members that came out to this event to learn how to be more Firewise, as well as the member of DOFAW that helped put on this educational event. DOFAW representatives Mapuana, Ceanne, Kawika, and Mike all helped us put on the successful event. We look forward to working with the West Kauaʻi communities again in the future, and hope to see the Ready Set Go! program grow there so that the people in those communities are as prepared as they can be in the event of a wildfire. An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of suppression!

Mahalo everyone for making this event successful!

Paniolo Hale Firewise Community Hazard Assessment

The assessment crew pointing out vegetative hazards on the wildland-urban interface of Paniolo Hale.

The assessment crew pointing out vegetative hazards on the wildland-urban interface of Paniolo Hale.

On April 1, 2019, HWMO flew to Molokaʻi, past the stunning cliffs of the North Shore, for a Firewise community hazard assessment of Paniolo Hale on the West End.

Paniolo Hale is an 8.75-acre condominium complex consisting of 21 buildings that include 76 dwelling units and a main office. Approximately 140 people live there, but nearly all are part-time residents (only about a half-dozen or so are full-time residents). Each unit is privately owned and ranges from studios to one or two-bedroom units. There is a resident manager and landscaping manager on-site. The condos are located in Kaluakoi in West Molokaʻi as part of a larger cluster of resort-style homes and vacation rentals along the scenic Kepuhi Beach (Paniolo Hale being the northern-most development in this zone). 

Across the gulch from Paniolo Hale due south is the partially-abandoned Kepuhi Beach Resort. Although some of the buildings are completely abandoned, many of the buildings are used as vacation rentals. Most of the grounds’ vegetation is still maintained, but the large golf course surrounding it is no longer in use and has gone fallow since the resort officially closed over a decade ago. Another condominium complex is situated due southeast of Paniolo Hale: Ke Nani Kai.

Captain Hanale Lindo of Maui Fire Department in front of roadside fuels.

Captain Hanale Lindo of Maui Fire Department in front of roadside fuels.

An abandoned golf course that once served as a wildland buffer, or greenbreak, for the community.

An abandoned golf course that once served as a wildland buffer, or greenbreak, for the community.

The assessment team taking a look at the wildland fuels.

The assessment team taking a look at the wildland fuels.

In early 2019, HWMO was contacted by the landscaping manager of Paniolo Hale for advice on wildfire prevention opportunities for the community. HWMO informed her about Firewise Communities and after a short turnaround, the Paniolo Hale neighborhood board decided to proceed in working towards Firewise Community recognition. As a first major step, a group of proactive residents and Paniolo hale staff met with HWMO, Maui Fire Department, and State Division of Forestry and Wildlife for the Firewise hazard assessment.

The assessment team first convened at the Paniolo Hale main office to map out an itinerary for the day, determine priority community areas to examine on the field assessment, and establish boundaries for the Firewise site. Following the meeting, the group walked to several areas to gain a vantage point of the intersection between wildland and urban areas. Along with these priority areas, the team also visited several representative homes to conduct a “Home Ignition Zone” assessment to better comprehend the wildfire hazards at the individual household level and identify locally-relevant examples of best practices for creating defensible space and fire-proofing structures.

The scenic Kepuhi Beach near Paniolo Hale.

The scenic Kepuhi Beach near Paniolo Hale.

Paniolo Hale is well on pace to become the first Firewise Community on Molokaʻi by the end of 2019! Mahalo Paniolo Hale!

Banner photo: view of Paniolo Hale from Kepuhi Beach Resort

Puukapu Pastoral Wildfire Planning Meeting and RSG! Workshop

HFD gives a presentation on wildfire access in Puukapu.

HFD gives a presentation on wildfire access in Puukapu.

An elaborate 3D map the Puukapu Pastoral committee assembled.

An elaborate 3D map the Puukapu Pastoral committee assembled.

Last year, Puukapu Pastoral became the 9th Firewise Community on Hawaii Island (and the 4th Firewise Community statewide on Hawaiian Home Lands). A committed group of community members from Puukapu Pastoral Steering Committee / Firewise are taking action to reduce the fire threats of the Waimea homestead area. Through outreach and education, community members are reaching out to neighbors about the importance of creating defensible space around houses, hardening homes, and having a household evacuation plan. The committee is also developing a well-thought-out, community-driven plan to create safer first response access and ingress/egress.

On March 21, the committee held a community meeting and invited HWMO and HFD representatives to give presentations. HWMO’s Pablo Akira Beimler gave a comprehensive Ready, Set, Go! wildfire preparedness workshop to the intent participants. The highlight of the night for us was to see an amazing 3D map the committee members had created (they were up till the wee hours of the night!) to demonstrate their color-coded road system proposal. We were very impressed with the level of detail and the immense effort and care the group put into this project. This community spirit is what keeps HWMO motivated to do the work that we do and support efforts like this. Keep up the great work, Puukapu!

Kohala Waterfront Firewise Educational Evening

Kohala Waterfront Wildfire Prep Day 2018

Kohala Waterfront Wildfire Prep Day 2018

Kohala Waterfront, a relatively new community in Kawaihae, invited HWMO’s Pablo Akira Beimler to join them for an educational evening on wildfire preparedness. In 2017, Kohala Waterfront became the 3rd community in Kawaihae on Hawaii Island to be nationally recognized as a Firewise Community. As an annual requirement, a Firewise Community must hold at least one educational event.

On February 11, 18 Kohala Waterfront homeowners gathered at the home of Firewise Chair, Marla Herman (Marla and her husband, Scott were amazing hosts). Pablo kicked off the night with a presentation on the Firewise Communities program, Ready, Set, Go!, and lessons learned from the memorable 2018 wildfire year in Hawaii. Following his presentation, Ms. Herman demonstrated what to pack in a “Go! bag” — the essentials that you need to evacuate early when a wildfire is in the area.

Mahalo Marla and the rest of the Kohala Waterfront Firewise Committee for continuing to raise the wildfire awareness level each year!

Kailapa Firewise Chipper Days 2018

This December, Kailapa residents took the initiative to thin and remove hazardous and flammable trees near homes as part of their Firewise Communities efforts. The community on Hawaiian Home Lands has been a Firewise Community since 2016 and has been doing great work to protect the residents and watershed from wildfire since then. As part of their December efforts, a chipper was hired to reduce the trees to woodchips that can be used for other projects. Nice work, Kailapa!

Hello, World!Kailapa Firewise Chipper Days December 2018

Waikoloa Village Firewise Green Waste Day

Mark Gordon, Fire Management Action Committee Chair, shares a laugh in front of the roll-out dumpster used for the green waste collection event. Credit: Waikoloa Village Fire Management Action Committee

Mark Gordon, Fire Management Action Committee Chair, shares a laugh in front of the roll-out dumpster used for the green waste collection event. Credit: Waikoloa Village Fire Management Action Committee

Waikoloa Village was on a roll this last weekend — literally. The WVA Fire Management Action Committee, chaired by Mark Gordon, contracted to have a large roll-out dumpster placed at the Waikoloa Stables for most of the day so that residents had a convenient location to dispose of yard waste and thereby reduce the fire risk around homes in the fire-prone subdivision.

The Firewise event organizers exceeded expectations, with the bin almost three-quarters of the way filled within the first hour or so — it was completely full by the end of the event. Over 30 people dropped off yard waste they had removed from around their homes, creating defensible space, which is an important part of being Ready for a wildfire.

Big mahalo to the work done by Steve, the newest Fire Management Committee member, Wayne, Mark, and the Waikoloa Stables groundskeeper who all volunteered their time towards assisting people in disposing of yard waste.

This event will help qualify Waikoloa Village for a 3rd straight year of having a national Firewise recognition. Great work everyone!


Waikoloa Village Firewise Green Waste Day 11/10/18

Kanehoa Firewise Networking Gathering

Puukapu Pastoral Firewise members share background on their community’s wildfire issues with the group.

Puukapu Pastoral Firewise members share background on their community’s wildfire issues with the group.

Kanehoa, the 2nd community to become a Firewise Community in Hawaii, has been a standout community for their Firewise leadership. Continuing to demonstrate that leadership quality, they hosted an inter-Firewise Community exchange on October 20, inviting all other Firewise Communities to join them for a networking gathering. HWMO joined the fun and learning, sharing the latest tips on wildfire preparedness and updates on the organization in general. Members from Puukapu Pastoral Firewise and Kohala Waterfront also joined in. Big mahalo to the Kanehoa Firewise Committee for inviting us and their work over the years!

3 Firewise Communities represented proudly at the gathering.

3 Firewise Communities represented proudly at the gathering.