HWMO in the News

PHOTOS: Kanehoa Community Clears the Way to Being 'Firewise'

Credit: HWMO

We cannot be any happier to see the great work the Kanehoa Firewise Committee and residents have put in to reduce the wildfire threat in their area. The second Firewise Community in Hawaii is well on their way to retaining that title for this year and beyond!

From the Source:

"Members of the Kanehoa community spent their Saturday making their community safer against the threat of wildfires.

The Hawai’i Wildfire Management’s Wildfire Prep Day provided communities across the island, state, and nation to participate in a day of preparation in honor of Wildfire Preparedness Month.

In total, two dozen Kanehoa community members joined in to remove an entire large dumpster with haole koa, also known as ekoa. The plant is known to be highly flammable and has the potential to create embers that can spark new fires, both near and far away."

"'All of us at Hawai’i Wildfire Management Organization are very proud of the work the Kanehoa community has contributed towards reducing the wildfire threat in their area and we hope more communities will follow their lead,' Pablo Akira Beimler, HWMO Community Outreach Coordinator, said in an e-mail.

Beimler says the efforts greatly reduced the wildfire threat by ensuring the roads can act as a fuel break to slow the spread of wildfire."

Wildland Fire Meeting on Kauai

Mauna Kea Fire Field Tour on second day of 2014 CNH Conference. Credit: HWMO

HWMO will be one of the speakers at this year's California, Nevada, and Hawaii WIldland Fire Conference in Kauai. Stay tuned to our HWMO Blog for a recap on the event!

From the Source:

"The event is geared for firefighting agencies at all levels of government to promote professional wildland fire management practices that protect lives and property, and enhance natural resource values.

Among the topics of discussion will be presentations by representatives of: the National Weather Service on the El Nino season and effects on fire conditions in Hawaii, Pacific Fire Exchange on challenges to rapid wildfire containment in Hawaii, and the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization."

Despite Recent Rain, Drought Conditions Expected to Last Long Into Summer

Credit: West Hawaii Today

Credit: West Hawaii Today

You might be able to see it just outside your bedroom window: the landscape around you starting to look drier and drier. Forecasts are calling for severe droughts for most of Hawaiʻi throughout the year (and possibly beyond). There are a number of steps you can take to make sure you stay a few steps ahead of the many wildfires on the way, both on wet and dry sides. 

From the Source:

"These sudden downpours are part of the pattern, said Elizabeth Pickett, executive director of the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, based in Waimea. The moisture stays just long enough to encourage vegetation growth, then it disappears and takes its time coming back."

"A coordinated group of federal, state and county fire officials have declared a wildfire and drought lookout, said Pickett. Officials with the National Park Service, U.S. Army, and Hawaii County Fire Department and the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife are on alert, she said.

'The forecast is really dismal as far as long dry periods and vegetation growth,' Pickett said.

The public will see the agencies roll out a wildfire awareness campaign in May in coordination with the national Wildfire Awareness Month, Pickett said.

Residents can do simple things to protect themselves from wildfire. They include landscaping with native plants -- most of which are naturally fire resistant -- and cutting down and removing brush and other fuel from near their homes.

'Many (introduced) plants that don't get enough water during a drought will drop their leaves and create a fire hazard,' Pickett said. 

Hawaii's Wildland Firefighters Need More Resources

Three DOFAW firefighters watch as smoke billows from a distance. Credit: DOFAW.

Front page headlines!

With the ever-growing problem of wildfires statewide, Hawaii's first responders have faced numerous challenges accessing adequate resources to ensure communities and natural resources are out of harm's way. This is a great article that highlights the underlying issues of wildfire in Hawaii, the current realities of wildfire suppression across the state, and tactics that may help alleviate these issues. The answer: improved resources for wildland firefighting and a focus on pre-fire mitigation.

From the Source:

"Experts say both the frequency and size of wildfires have steadily grown in recent decades as changing weather patterns and invading fire-prone, non-native grasses and shrubs have put Hawaii’s forests and natural areas at greater risk of fire.

Data from a recent Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization study indicate that the average area burned each year in Hawaii has climbed by 400 percent over the past century.

The study also shows that an average of more than 17,000 acres has burned each year over the past decade, with some years exceeding even the most fire-prone Western states.

In fact, a greater percentage of Hawaii is under high risk of wildfire than any of the other 16 westernmost states, according to an assessment by the Council of Western State Foresters."

"Clay Trauernicht, extension fire specialist with the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said the state needs to provide more realistic funding levels to help protect the state’s natural areas in the face of a rapidly growing wildfire threat."

"Cutting firebreaks, reducing vegetation and brush, and working with landowners to provide access for water and vehicles help to minimize the size of fires, their impacts and their potential danger to firefighters, he said."

"Trauernicht said the state should consider establishing a full-time team dedicated solely to wildfires. Not only would it improve the division’s initial response, but the team could also conduct pre- and post-fire activities when not responding to fires, he said."

Parched: Driest January on Record for Parts of West Hawaii

"Charred earth from the recent fire near Palamanui is seen along side of dry grass from the persisting drought in North Kona. (Laura Shimabuku/West Hawaii Today)"

What is on pace for the 2nd strongest El Nino on record is not good news for those worried about wildfire. The key take away is that even if your area is considered "wet side", when there is no rain, the rainforest can burn. 

Here's a news piece with quotes from our Executive Director, Elizabeth Pickett, and a long-time partner of ours, Jen Lawson, who directs the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative.

From the Source:

"The Pacific is experiencing what will likely pan out to be the second strongest El Nino on record, behind only 1997-98. True to pattern, a snuffing out of the normal trade wind pattern and its accompanying showers are following the El Nino. If the past is any indication and long-term predictions hold up, there may be no relief in sight through April."

"West Hawaii had a very wet summer, leading to high loads of vegetation which have now dried out, causing concern for fire management officials. In Waikoloa, expanses of invasive buffelgrass and fountain grass have become parched, said Jen Lawson, who directs the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative.

'We’ve had no precipitation at the forest in more than 12 weeks,' she said. 'Wildfire is what we are thinking most about now.”

Kodama said light winds have helped spare dry areas from fast-spreading fires. But that could change as winds pick up going into spring and conditions continue to dry out, he said.

Elizabeth Pickett, executive director of the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, said her group will be stepping up its fire safety outreach in the face of the drought.

'We have a pretty high hazard out there; now is time to be proactive and really be aware of the fire issue,' Pickett said. 'We’re getting very concerned.'"

HWMO Awarded the 2016 Ready Set Go! Leadership Award for Career Department

Students from Malama Kai Foundation's Ocean Warriors program read through Ready, Set, Go! Action Guides - part of an integrated approach to empower keiki to share what they've learned with their family and general public.

We are honored to be this year's 2016 Ready Set Go! Leadership Award for Career Department recipient! The Ready, Set, Go! program has been an incredible partner and a crucial resource for wildfire preparation information over the past few years. Big mahalo for all of their kokua over the years!

We look forward to formally accepting the award at this year's Wildland-Urban Interface Conference in Reno on March 9th!

From the Source:

  • The RSG Award for Excellence
    • Flower Mound (Texas) Fire Department
  • The RSG Innovation Award
    • Austin (Texas) Fire Department Wildfire Division
  • The RSG Leadership Award
    • Career Department: Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization
    • Volunteer/Combination Department: Aubrey (Texas) Fire Department

"The winners have incorporated the RSG! Program into their prefire mitigation or preparedness outreach. They’ve also demonstrated innovation in expanding the program to neighboring emergency service groups to enhance wildfire readiness throughout their communities. These RSG champions have helped their communities become actively engaged in the wildland-fire solution."

"Recently, HWMO created and printed a state Action Guide, taking steps to make it as detailed and specific to their region as possible. HWMO used RSG education as a first step toward community engagement in order to ensure RSG principles are not only shared but also put into action. They worked with partners and their community to develop a strategic and innovative process that started with an initial CWPP meeting to identify community-based priorities and wildfire concerns. Their innovative and engaging ideas in promoting RSG and fire wise landscaping make them this year’s winner of the RSG Leadership Award for Career Departments."

Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization Supports Formation of Firewise Communities in Hawaii

"According to the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, about 0.5% of Hawaii’s total land area burns annually, as much or more than the proportion of land are burned in any other US state. In Hawaii, 98% of wildfires are human caused."

We are extremely grateful to be a part of the Firewise Communities program and were highlighted for our efforts in January's National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) Fire Break newsletter!

From the Source:

"Wildfire in Hawaii, like anywhere else, threatens the safety of firefighters, residents andhomes. It also causes damage to the air quality, which impacts human health, and contributes to soil erosion problems that can cause damage to sensitive coral reefs. One of the partners in Hawaii working to help lessen the loss due to wildfire in Hawaii is the Hawaiian Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO). They are a small nonprofit organization that has been working together with fire departments, the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife, communities and others to help develop Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs) and Firewise Communities. The HWMO was officially founded in 2000 by a group of South Kohala/North Kona regional experts who wanted to create a non-profit organization to serve as an arm for the fire suppression and land management agencies to conduct prevention, pre-suppression, and post-fire work. They became incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2002. Since then, they have grown to not only address wildfire issues for all of Hawaii Island, but also the entire state and some of the Western Pacific (namely Yap, Palau, Guam).

According to Pablo Beimler, Coordinator with HWMO, "'Although we have a small staff, HWMO is continually able to accomplish a number of projects due to its extensive partnerships. We can't say it enough: by staying in communication with our partners on each project, and expanding partnerships where needed, they are able to ensure our projects stay grounded and effective.'"

"Pablo described other wildfire preparedness projects in which HWMO is involved. "We have a Firewise demonstration garden in Waikoloa Village, where we have a number of native, drought-tolerant plants growing strategically around a demo home to give community members an example of good defensible space practices. Our team has held a number of community events at the garden and have had a youth environmental empowerment group called the Malama Kai Ocean Warriors help be the ‘stewards’ of the garden. In terms of other youth outreach, we also go to numerous schools and youth programs to teach students about wildfire prevention and preparedness, including Firewise and Ready, Set, Go! principles. We also hold community wildfire preparedness workshops for various organizations/groups or for the general public where we give people a run-down on Firewise and Ready, Set, Go!."  

Oahu Hit Hard By Wildfires, Study Finds

Drs. Clay Trauernicht and Creighton Litton (both at University of Hawaii, CTAHR) gave excellent interviews regarding wildfires in Hawaii and the threats they pose on people and landscapes. Honolulu Star-Advertiser placed the story front and center on their Sunday paper and Hawaii Public Radio filled the airwaves about the scale and scope of Hawaii’s wildfire issues— information likely new to much of their audiences.  

In addition to Trauernicht and Litton of UH CTAHR, Elizabeth Pickett of HWMO was a co-author, along with Christian Giardina and Susan Cordell of the US Forest Service, and Andrew Beavers at the Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands at Colorado State University. HWMO created the database and fire history map that was the foundation of the research.  The research article can be found here:

"Firefighters battled a brush fire in upper Makakilo in August 2014. Authorities later determined that the fire was started by two boys playing with a lighter." (Krystle Marcellus/Honolulu Star Advertiser)

From the Source:

"'People don’t typically think of wildfire as a frequent disturbance on tropical islands,' said Trauernicht in a UH release Friday.

But between 2005 and 2011, there were about 1,007 wildfires statewide that burned an average of about 20,000 acres, the researchers found.

A 108-year history showed a more-than-fourfold increase in acreage burned annually statewide, they found."

"'Oahu is off the charts,' he said, adding that Maui averaged about 200 wildfires annually."

"Observers say in Hawaii, more homes being built near open brush land sometimes force firefighters to place themselves dangerously between the fires and houses."

Student Earns National Fire Prevention Award

"Waimea Middle School student Kyren Martins was selected as one of 10 national recipients of the $500 'TakeAction' community service funding award."

Out of our superb team of action takers in Waimea sprouted a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) #‎TakeAction winner! Congratulations Kyren Martins!

From the Source:

"Five Waimea Middle School students assembled together in a group organized by the Hawai’i Wildlife Management Organization to address wildfire prevention and preparedness. One of those students gained national recognition."

"Martins and Rillanos created prevention signs, Murakami-Mattos worked on a video project that focuses on 'good versus bad defensible space,' and Bell-Kaopuiki and Rivera joined together to remove flammable plant debris from the Mālaʻai Culinary Garden.

Martins was one of ten national recipients. His family was affected by the Kawaihae fire and flooding that followed in August. As a project, Martins made and installed a wildfire prevention sign at the edge of his home, visible from the roadway."

Waimea Youth Wildfire Prep Team

Fending Off a Fire: Workshop Offers Hands-On Fire Extinguisher Training

"Fire Battalion Chief Joseph Farias left indicates where to aim the spray to Mary and Dale Watson at a fire extinguisher workshop Saturday at the Waikoloa Stables. Laura Shimabuku/West Hawaii Today"

Mahalo West Hawaii Today for including the recent training we helped put together with Waikoloa CERT with additional help from Hawaii Fire Department!

From the Source:

"October is Fire Prevention Month which has been recognized since 1871, the year of the Great Chicago Fire that claimed the lives of more than 250 people, leaving 100,000 homeless and destroying over 17,400 structures. Part of the month-long commemoration, The Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) sponsored a fire extinguisher workshop Saturday at the Waikoloa Stables.

The free workshop not only explained the components of this commonplace item, it also allowed students to have hands-on training in its correct use. Under the supervision of Hawaii County Fire Department personnel, each attendee was given the opportunity to PASS - pull the pin, aim, squeeze and sweep. Classifications of various extinguishers was also explained and which ones are best for home use in different scenarios."

Dealing with Wildfires in North Hawaii

HWMO, along with its fire agency partners, are highlighted in this week's edition of North Hawaii News! Get the inside scoop on what it took to fight the challenging Kawaihae Fire last month from those who were on the front lines. You'll also find some of the work HWMO is doing to keep wildfire occurrences and destructive effects to a minimum. 

Aftermath of Kawaihae fire that burned from makai to mauka. (Pablo Beimler/HWMO)

From the Source:

"With fewer per capita emergency resources than higher populated areas like Honolulu, HFD has to make strategic use of available resources to cover large geographic areas on challenging terrain. Communication, coordination among units, planning, training, equipment and following well-established priorites are crucial, according to Captain Sommers."

"Pablo Beimler, education and outreach coordinator for Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO), has created a compelling video vividly depicting the Kawaihae wildfire’s cumulative damage to coastal areas. It can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kNo7Ucv28Y.

With this month’s fire coming close to the ocean, HWMO’s Executive Director Elizabeth Pickett says, “'Most residents do not readily connect wildfire to coastal impacts because there is frequently a lag time and often geographic distance between fires and storm events.'"

HWMO VIDEO: Kawaihae Fire and Flood 2015 - Mauka to Makai Impacts

Post-fire debris smothers coastline near Mauumae Beach.

Starting on August 8th, Kawaihae experienced a brushfire that threatened local communities, businesses, and cultural sites. Over a week later, the impacts of the wildfire have reached another precious resource: our coastline. 

We just produced a short video demonstrating the mauka-to-makai effects of wildfire with recent footage and photographs documenting the post-fire floods that have and are continuing to have negative impacts on our nearshore resources including coral reefs.

At the end of the video is an important message about how you can join us in taking action to prevent troubling events like these.

Enjoy and make sure to spread this video and the messages in it to everyone you know!

The recent Kawaihae Fire burned over 4,500 acres of wildland in the Northwest region of Hawaii Island. The wildfire directly impacted local communities, businesses, and cultural sites. One week later, the wildfire impacted coastal resources through unprecedented levels of post-fire flooding.

Summer in Waikoloa Increases Potential for Wildfires - Waikoloa Breeze Sep. 2015

This month's Waikoloa Breeze featured a number of wildfire-related articles, including an HWMO blurb about summers in Waikoloa and the importance of preparing early for wildfires. 

Also included:

  • Parker Ranch Land Brush Fire
  • Wiliwili Festival (events that include an HWMO workshop on how to use native plants to protect your home)
  • Message from the General Manager: project approval for adding mulch to vacant lot fuelbreaks

Fires Surge: Some 225 Brush Fires Have Burned On Oahu So Far This Year

Front page of Honolulu Star Advertiser on July 9, 2015.

We are featured in the front page headline for the Honolulu Star Advertiser this morning!

From the Source:

"Residents can help prevent and prepare for brush fires by removing flammable materials within 30 feet of homes, pruning trees so the lowest branches are 6 to 10 feet from the ground, and creating and practicing a family evacuation plan, according to HFD.

Pablo Beimler, education and outreach coordinator of the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, said tossing cigarette butts on the ground or the heat from a car parked near or on top of dry grass could trigger a fire. He said the organization found a correlation between population growth and an increase in brush fires.

The organization hopes to ramp up its outreach efforts, particularly in Waianae, which is typically dry, to engage residents about brush fire prevention and preparation through community action programs, he said.

'The big help is that a lot of the events (brush fires) are actually preventable,' Beimler said. 'We work with kids a lot. We think it’s a good way to start in terms of getting prevention methods out there.'

According to the organization, communities on Oahu especially at risk from brush fires include the Leeward Coast area. HFD data show that from January of last year, more than 100 occurred in Waianae, about 50 in Kapolei and nearly 40 in Waipahu."

Waikoloa Breeze July 2015 - Goat Dozing and Future of WVA Owned Lands; Pohinahina

Click to enlarge.

We're featured in the Waikoloa Breeze's General Manager Report for July 2015. GM Roger Wehrsig of Waikoloa Village Association recaps our latest project clearing portions of association-owned lands within the Village using "goat-dozers." 

Also, check out our "Native Firewise Plant of the Month" section highlighting Pohinahina, a great Firewise ground-cover that also acts as a soil stabilizer and grows quite quickly in dry areas.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Waikoloa Breeze June 2015 - Wildfire Prep Day Review, Volunteer of Month, Goat Dozing

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This month's Waikoloa Breeze featured HWMO a number of times. 

1) Wildfire Prep Day recap (pg. 4)
2) Volunteer of the Month: Mark Gordon, Waikoloa CERT and active member of the Waikoloa Firewise Team. He has assisted in helping raise awareness for wildfires in the community, and has contributed to HWMO efforts through a variety of ways. Congratulations Mark! Thanks for all you do! (pg. 8)
3) Update on goat-dozing for fuels reduction within the community's vacant lots - a project we're helping fund and support. (pg. 24)

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Waikoloa Breeze May 2015 - WVA Interior Lots and Wildfire Prep Day Flyer

Click to enlarge.

Weʻre working with Waikoloa Village to try innovative ways to reduce wildfire threats throughout the neighborhood. Also, check out our flyer for the upcoming Wildfire Prep Day event.

From the Source:

"Goat Dozers has been contracted to clear a fifty (50) ft. fire break around the perimeter of four (4) of the six (6) lots owned by WVA within the Village. Funds have been secured through a grant from Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization." - Roger Wehrsig, General Manager, Waikoloa Village Association

Hot Under the Collar Over Wildfires

"Wildfires like this one are increasing across the island and are extremely detrimental in a variety of ways." Credit - Chief Eric Moller, USAG-P, FES and HWMO

"Wildfires like this one are increasing across the island and are extremely detrimental in a variety of ways." Credit - Chief Eric Moller, USAG-P, FES and HWMO

Highlight of Ilene Grossman (Planning Assistant) and HWMO's efforts to protect Kauai resident and native resources from wildfire!

From the Source:

"'I want to do my part in protecting the Hawaiian Islands’ natural and cultural resources,' says Grossman. 'Wildfires have a devastating impact on our islands in general, and I want to offer my time to help our communities with this growing issue.'

As long as residents do their part by being proactive and informed, the number of fires can decrease. Regular maintenance of yards and landscaping, for example, is one way to help mitigate fires. It’s important for the community to work together to make this happen, including government entities, as wildfires are both dangerous and expensive.

'When fires burn native forest, what comes back are non-native, invasive grasses and other species that are more fire prone, creating a vicious cycle of fire,' explains Grossman.

Additionally, after a fire, soil drifts into the waterways, smothers reefs and impacts water quality. Air quality is yet another concern that especially impacts fire-fighters. Moreover, the cost to taxpayers to put out each fire and rebuild afterward is another negative effect.

Waimea Wildfire Management Group Co-Hosts Fundraiser

From the Source

"For more than 10 years, the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, a nonprofit organization based in Waimea, has been on a mission to protect Hawaii’s communities and natural resources from the growing threat of wildfires.

Hawaii’s proportion of land area burned each year has either matched or exceeded that of any of the fire-prone Western U.S. states. The impacts of wildfire range from human safety and native forest destruction, to coral reef smothering caused by post-fire erosion and run-off.

Since 98 percent of wildfires in Hawaii are caused by humans and many are caused accidentally, we can all work together to help solve this issue by spreading the word about wildfires and the ways we can prevent them and protect our families, communities, and lands.

To get involved and offer kokua, Hawaii Wildfire is teaming with the Rotary Club of Kona and Denny’s to host Project Compassion from 4-9 p.m. Sunday at Denny’s Restaurant in Kona. With the public’s support, Hawaii Wildfire can continue its mission and expand its outreach efforts. The organization will receive 20 percent of the food and beverage sales and 100 percent of guest servers’ tips."


HWMO and its partners at Wildfire Prep Day 2014.

HWMO and its partners at Wildfire Prep Day 2014.

Devastating Wildfires Pose Growing Threat to Hawaii's Lush Forest and Water Resources

Excellent, well-rounded article about the mauka to makai connectivity in regards to wildfires. Our wildfire issues are making national headlines!

From the Source:

"In addition to chipping away at the last of Hawaii's native forests, wildfires also threaten the state's limited freshwater resources. According to Elizabeth Pickett of the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, fires can make the soil hydrophobic, meaning less water infiltrates the soil and contributes to the state's precious groundwater resources.

Wildfires are also destructive to the state's treasured coral reefs.

The most recent National Climate Assessment reports that Hawaii's coral reefs are already struggling to survive due to bleaching events and ocean acidification."


Sign-up for a free-trial of ClimateWire to read the full article (it's worth it!):


"A forest fire creeps down to the sea from the West Maui Mountains. Photo courtesy of Peter Liu."

"A forest fire creeps down to the sea from the West Maui Mountains.
Photo courtesy of Peter Liu."