Over the last few decades, Puakō has had many encounters with wildfires, one of which burned down six homes in 1987. Increased human activity in the area along with more frequent and severe drought periods and unmanaged vegetation have been recipes for increased wildfire hazards and occurrences in the area. The 2007 fire prompted the creation of Puakō’s nearly 3-mile long fuelbreak with the facilitation of a U.S. Forest Service Wildland-Urban Interface grant from Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO). HWMO is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Waimea that has been providing the Hawaiian Islands with nationally recognized wildfire protection services since 2000. We serve as the hub of the collaborative wildfire efforts of government agencies, nongovernment organizations, and communities across Hawaiʻi. For more information, go to hawaiiwildfire.org.
In 2016, Puakō residents concerned with the wildfire issues in their community, came together to form a Firewise Committee that would work towards Firewise Community recognition. The NFPA Firewise Communities Recognition Program, which over 1,300 communities are currently participating in, certifies communities that have banded together to reduce their wildfire risks through a five-step process. HWMO is pleased to announce that, thanks to the efforts of proactive residents in the community and help from various partners, Puakō is now an official Firewise Community as of 2016. The benefits of being a Firewise Community include community-building, increasing wildfire awareness, gaining greater access to funding and assistance, and possible reduction to insurance costs in the near future. Most importantly, a Firewise Community is better protected from wildfire. Puakō now joins 6 other new Firewise Communities on Maui and Hawaiʻi Island that HWMO was able to assist this past year, making it a total of 9 communities with this honor.
Wildfires not only impact communities, businesses, infrastructure, native forests, and cultural resources, but they also affect our watersheds and coral reefs (check out the video HWMO produced in 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=ZtsG5fP-Z9Y)...
Heavy rain events after fires cause erosion that sloughs off topsoil leaving some areas completely denuded and unable to support vegetation. Post-fire erosion fills streams with sediment, depositing it in the ocean. This sedimentation smothers coral reefs, massively impacting water quality, fisheries, and long term coral health. By reducing the wildfire threats in Puakō, being a Firewise Community also means protecting the area’s wai and kai. Mahalo to Puakō residents for all the hard work you put in this past year!