Firewise Communities

As Dry Summer Season Nears, A Community is Working to Prevent Wildfires

Team Rubicon volunteers out in full force to help create a firebreak. Credit: Hawaii News Now

Team Rubicon volunteers out in full force to help create a firebreak. Credit: Hawaii News Now

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 2018!) 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.

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!

From the Source:

This Memorial Day weekend, hard-working volunteers are helping out homeowners worried about the threat of wildfires. They started creating a new firebreak on Saturday near Mariner’s Cove.

With the help of a hazard assessment from the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, the community came up with an action plan.

With moderate drought conditions across the state, wildfire experts are concerned about this summer.

“During those El Nino periods, we actually see significant increases in wildfire ignitions, but also in the amount of area that burns so we’re defintiely very worried this summer,” said Pablo Beimler, Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization’s community outreach coordinator.

“It’s like black and white, like a swarm of bees come in here and sort of take over, start in five different spots and just continue on down. It’s really amazing,” said homeowner Dick Johnson.

Apply for a Wildfire Community Preparedness Day Grant by March 1!

#WildfirePrepDay 2018 at Kamilonui-Mariner’s Cove in Hawaii Kai, Oahu. They received a State Farm grant for their vegetation reduction efforts and were able to go the extra mile because of it! Credit: Livable Hawaii Kai Hui

#WildfirePrepDay 2018 at Kamilonui-Mariner’s Cove in Hawaii Kai, Oahu. They received a State Farm grant for their vegetation reduction efforts and were able to go the extra mile because of it! Credit: Livable Hawaii Kai Hui

From our partners at NFPA:

Wildfire Community Preparedness Day this year it is May 4, 2019. NFPA® will again be offering project funding awards to 150 communities across the United States. Each of these $500 awards provided with past generous support from State Farm, can be used to complete a wildfire safety project where you live.

The application period for one of one hundred fifty $500 awards opens January 7 at 8 AM EST, and will close March 1 at midnight EST.  Winners will be announced March 22. 

20 Acre Fire Near Auwahi Windfarm on Maui

The fire occurred in the vicinity of the Auwahi Wind Farm located in leeward Haleakala.

The fire occurred in the vicinity of the Auwahi Wind Farm located in leeward Haleakala.

We are glad all are okay at Auwahi Wind. They have been a great partner in Kahikinui's Firewise Community efforts. Recently, they contributed $10,000 to the Hawaiian homestead community for a new community entrance and fuels reduction.

From the Source:

The Piʻilani Highway (Hwy 31) at Mile Marker 20 in ʻUlupalakua is now OPEN.  The road was temporarily closed in both directions for about an hour and a half while crews responded to a brush fire in the area of the Auwahi Wind Farm.

Puako Brush Fire Scorches 3 Acres, Started by Powerline

" Firefighters work to douse a brush fire Thursday morning in Puako." Credit: Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today

"Firefighters work to douse a brush fire Thursday morning in Puako." Credit: Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today

One of the more unusual starts for a wildfire, but accidents happen and it is best to always be prepared for the next fire. We are glad to hear this fire didn't get any larger and impact the Firewise Community, Puako.

From the Source:

Battalion Chief John Whitman said the fire appeared to have started from a short on a Hawaii Electric Light Co. utility pole in the area. He said fire rescue personnel in South Kohala heard a loud explosion and then saw smoke. They subsequently reported it to dispatch and went to the scene.

Rhea Lee-Moku, HELCO spokeswoman, said personnel responded to the fire and are still working to determine its cause. However, she said a mynah bird appears to have contacted HELCO equipment by Hoohana Street, sparking the fire.

Mariner's Ridge Brush Fire Brought Under Control

Credit: KITV4

Credit: KITV4

Last year, a string of brushfires threatened communities in Kamilonui Valley and Mariner's Cove spurring them to work with HWMO on becoming one of the first Firewise Communities on Oahu. This year, they may see more fires like this one again, but a group of residents and community leaders are taking action to spread awareness and reduce the fire risk. On June 23, the Firewise committee in Kamilonui-Mariner's Cove will hold a work day to remove flammable vegetation from along bordering wildland areas. 

Registration Open for Hawaii Wildfire Summit

2018_3_16_Hawaii Wildfire Summit_Schedule_at_a_glance_FINAL copy_Page_1.jpg

Mahalo to Big Island Now and West Hawaii Today for publishing information on our upcoming Hawaii Wildfire Summit.

From the Source:

Since wildfires are such a wide-spanning issue that affect communities, lands, and waters, the solutions require everyone playing a proactive role. The Hawai‘i Wildfire Summit is a unique opportunity to learn, share, and collaborate with others who deal with wildfire in their work and communities across Hawai‘i and the Pacific.

This year’s theme is “Collaborating Across Hawaii and the Pacific for Summit to Sea Wildfire Protection.”

Presentations and workshops that one would otherwise have to attend on the mainland U.S. will also be a highlight of the event, offering a local option to connect to national-level programs, research and trainings.

Why Some Communities Recover Better After Natural Disasters

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

HWMO believes strongly in the importance of working together as a pathway for communities to become more resilient in the face of growing wildfires in Hawaii and the Western Pacific. We use national frameworks such as Firewise Communities, Fire Adapted Communities, ReadySetGo!, and Western Cohesive Strategy and apply them at the local level to bring neighbors together.

The science is there to back this up, too! A research team from Northeastern University has found that post-disaster anxiety from recent climate-related disasters was reduced solely because of social ties. "Individuals who had more friends, neighbors, and relatives nearby did far better than more isolated people," said Dr. Daniel Aldrich, professor and director of the Security and Resilience Program at Northeastern.

From the Source:

"TG: How can people become more resilient?
DA: To become more resilient, my team and I have put together a package of policies that we're encouraging neighborhoods and communities around the world (e.g. Wellington, NZ, Cambridge, MA, San Francisco, CA, etc.) to try out. These include strengthening ties with neighbors, holding regular community events, engaging citizens in every planning and zoning event possible, creating local communities, and building spaces that encourage social interaction."

The Power of Insurance Incentives to Promote Fire Adapted Communities

"Where wildfire meets homes, the fire suppression response may protect homes but distort the full cost of insuring the homes from wildfires. Waldo Canyon Fire, Colorado Springs, CO, 2012." Credit: USFS

"Where wildfire meets homes, the fire suppression response may protect homes but distort the full cost of insuring the homes from wildfires. Waldo Canyon Fire, Colorado Springs, CO, 2012." Credit: USFS

HWMO is exploring creative ways to motivate people and communities to action. One technique that some states are using is the power of the economic incentives. Check out this article written by a friend of the organization, Mr. Rob Galbraith, Director of Property Underwriting at USAA. We have opened discussions with the Division of Insurance and some companies such as USAA to offer insurance reduction rates for Firewise Communities. 

From the Source:

"I have attended several community meetings — co-presenting with local fire departments to encourage homeowners to take proactive steps to mitigate their exposure to the threat of loss from wildland fire. And the impact of combining intangible benefits (e.g., life safety, avoidance of property and financial loss) with tangible benefits (e.g., discount on homeowners insurance, recognition as a Firewise community through signage) can be a powerful motivator."

"Requirements by insurance carriers for property owners to take steps to mitigate their exposure to property losses from wildland fire can be a powerful motivator — when those requirements adhere to scientifically-based principles. Government entities may have similar levers in the form of citations, fines, fees, tax withholdings, etc. when property owners are not in accordance with local regulations and ordinances, but these generally are not as impactful as an insurance carrier’s refusal to continue coverage.

However, at times the requirements from insurance carriers can be counter-productive as they impose unreasonable or unnecessary burdens on homeowners. For example, a carrier may require 100 feet of clear cutting to create defensible space around the home, but the property line to the adjacent parcel may be within 100 ft. Removing vegetation may also run afoul of local ordinances on the size and types of trees that may be cut down. Finally, these requirements from carriers may not be performed reasonably in the amount of time given and may give the homeowner misleading direction on the prioritization of mitigation actions, namely starting 0-5 feet from the structure and moving outward over time."

Firefighter Chili Cook-Off Spices Things Up in Waimea

PTA Fire Chief Eric Moller serves their recipe to Connie Bender at the Chili Cook-Off for Wildfire Prevention Saturday at the Parker Ranch Red Barn. (Laura Ruminski-West Hawaii Today)

PTA Fire Chief Eric Moller serves their recipe to Connie Bender at the Chili Cook-Off for Wildfire Prevention Saturday at the Parker Ranch Red Barn. (Laura Ruminski-West Hawaii Today)

We are ecstatic to see that the Firefighter Chili Cook-Off made the front page of the West Hawaii Today on Monday, August 28! Thank you to everyone who made the cook-off such a wonderful event and successful fundraiser. You can also read more by checking out our blog post.

From the Source:

"The sold out fundraiser for the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO) was attended by over 200 guests who sampled and voted for their favorite chili recipe.

HWMO’s mission is dedicated to proactive and collaborative wildfire related education, outreach and technical assistance, project implementation and research.

Money raised will go to the nonprofit organization’s operating costs, according to Pablo Beimler, Community Outreach Coordinator.

Beimler said 25,000 flyers recently went out to students across the state as part of their school outreach, and coloring books are on their way."

Questions Raised Over Cause of Yet Another Brush Fire in Hawaii Kai

KHON2 video screen capture of Hawaii Kai brushfire.

KHON2 video screen capture of Hawaii Kai brushfire.

It has been a scary year for Hawaii Kai residents -- more than a dozen brushfires have burned in the area this year. HWMO is currently in discussions with stakeholders and community members in Hawaii Kai to begin the Firewise Communities certification process. Grassroots, community-based organizing will be a key to keeping residents, farmers, and others in the area safe from wildfires.  

From the Source:

"The location of the fire is in the area of Niumalu Loop, near the entrance of the valley, which was the scene of a recent rash of suspicious brush fires that have been plaguing the community throughout the year."

"The two-acre fire was contained just before 2:20 a.m., and officials have deemed the cause of the fire as undetermined, but remains under investigation."

Advancing FAC in Hawaii: Increasing Awareness, Thinking Both Short and Long Term and...Goats?

Click to Read the Blog Post

Click to Read the Blog Post

In 2015, we began working with several communities statewide on grassroots-level community wildfire protection efforts, primarily through Firewise’s communities recognition program. Only a few years later, we’re happy to say that our communities are seeing some great success! Find out how HWMO and its partners are working with communities to advance Fire Adapted Community goals in the latest highlight on the FAC Learning Network blog.

From the Source:

"These recommendations have already encouraged Firewise committees to start thinking outside of the box. For example, two years ago, Waikoloa Village received a fuels reduction grant from the USDA Forest Service. The village used the funds to hire a goat-grazing contractor to reduce flammable vegetation on vacant lots. As phase two of the project, the community will be installing permanent fence posts to allow for more regular grazing. Eventually, they may transform these lots into a multi-use area where goats continue to graze and the community also grows citrus trees.

These communities are also engaging residents through outreach. A few months ago, the Launiupoko Firewise committee sent over 300 copies of ReadySetGo! Wildland Fire Action Guides to residents. This spring, they will be hiring a contractor to remove flammable vegetation along an established bike path. Kahikinui, a small homestead in one of the most remote areas on Maui, worked tirelessly last year to engage neighboring large landowners and various agencies in their Firewise efforts. Their persistence and creativity led to a collaborative fuels mitigation project that received funding from the Department of Hawaiian Homelands and a local wind farm."

Grass Fire Fanned by Kona Winds Burns Half Acre in Kula

As of 2016, Waiohuli homesteads in Kula is a nationally-recognized Firewise Community. Wildfires are a growing threat to Kula communities, whether the northeast or Kona trade winds are blowing. Join Waiohuli by taking action as a neighborhood and working towards becoming a Firewise Community!

From the Source:

"A brush fire in Kula burned about a half-acre of grass on Sunday before it was brought under control.

Upcountry firefighters responded to the incident reported off of Koheo Road in Kula at 11:35 a.m. on Sunday Feb. 5, 2017.

Kula firefighters arrived at 11:51 a.m. to find a half-acre of grass on fire. Air 1 was called out to make water drops because of strong Kona winds fanning the fire."

Puako Among Seven New Firewise Communities in Hawaii As of 2016

Aerial photo of Puako community fuelbreak.

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

Some of the members of the Puako Firewise Committee who helped the community achieve Firewise Communities recognition.

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!

Fire Adaptation Strategies from Across the Nation: My Travels in 2016

Great to see such amazing work happening across the nation -- we are so grateful to be a part of this movement towards Fire Adapted Communities. Mahalo to USAA's Rob Galbraith and Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network for the feature and encouraging support.  

From the Source:

"Finally, I had the unique opportunity to spend a day with Pablo Beimler and the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO) on the Big Island in September. Pablo’s previous blog post captures much of what he shared with me, but I left so inspired by what HWMO has been able to accomplish with such a unique landscape (where fire is not a natural part of the ecology), being so remote from others and with limited resources. Their can-do spirit, willingness to innovate and strong sense of motivation and engagement has remained with me and inspires me to continue our work at USAA to further collaborate and support FAC Net members and affiliate members in their efforts."

Waikoloa's New Fire Management Committee

Waikoloa Fire Management Committee

Waikoloa is entering a new phase in wildfire protection with the formation of a new Fire Management Committee made up of four knowledgeable go-getters! As their first major goal, they are working with HWMO to become the largest Firewise Community in the State of Hawaii. HWMO completed a hazard assessment report for the village and the committee will now work on developing an action plan. We thank the new committee members for stepping to the plate to help protect the village from wildfires!

NOTE: The brief article is on page 3.

From the Source:

"WVA now has a newly formed Fire Management Action Committee. Team members are Mark Gordon (Chair), Wayne Awai, Bev Brand, Dave Faucette. The current goal of the Committee is to achieve a National Firewise Community designation for Waikoloa Village by the end of 2016.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13th 2016, members of the Committee, along with staff from Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, Hawaii Fire Department, Waikoloa Dryland Forest Initiative and the Department of Forestry and Wildlife conducted a Firewise Community Hazard Assessment. This involved conducting a home ignition zone assessment of 3 homes as varying examples of common wildfire hazards and Firewise modifications made to minimize exposure from embers and heat from wildfire. In addition, priority areas at risk of wildfire were examined by the team to determine what steps could be done to make the greater community more Firewise."