Hawaii Island: North Kohala

Three More Fires Reported In West Hawaii - Police Increase Patrols

Report any suspicious activity relating to recent fires by calling 935-3311. Credit - Hawaii DLNR/special to West Hawaii Today

If you have any information that may help with the investigation of this unfortunate string of events, please do not hesitate to contact the Hawaii Police Department at 935-3311. Every little bit of evidence helps. Mahalo for your kokua.

From the Source:

"Two of the small fires were located in the North Kona District and the third burned in South Kohala, according to Kona Fire Prevention Bureau Capt. Kazuo Todd, who oversees two fire investigators in Kona. That brings the total number of fires that have ignited in the two districts to eight over an eight-day period between Feb. 11 and Thursday. That number includes two fires that combined with others into three fires on the day the string of fires began."

"'We just want the person involved to know that the community is working together, keeping their eyes open and we just ask you to behave yourself,' he said. 'If not, eventually, you will get caught and be held accountable.'

Though the department is always ready to respond to any additional reports, doing so is putting some strain on services in the area, the chief said.

'What that does is take away resources from responding to other calls,' he said. 'We always respond to every call that comes in, but when units are out of their district fighting a brush fire that was intentionally set, it does delay our response to other calls.'

All told, the fires have charred approximately 1,146 acres of mostly brush; however, state officials have said some native trees were lost. The fires have started primarily in the vicinity of Highway 190 between Kailua-Kona and Waimea."

VIDEO: Flash Flooding Near Kawaihae Filmed

Screen capture from Big Island Video News.

On Monday, August 17th, a storm brought heavy rainfall to the State, including the Northwest side of Hawaii Island. Inches of rain fell each hour, which as you can imagine created frightening flash flood scenarios. Highways were shut down, vehicles were stranded, and dozens of residents evacuated the Kawaihae area. An unprecedented amount of murky stormwater ran through the streams and streets of Kawaihae and as of this morning, continues to find routes to the ocean. 

These shocking videos show just how dramatic the post-fire erosion event was last night. 

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

New Community Partnership on Hawaii Island Aims to Improve Water Quality

"Rocky coastline on Hawaii Island." Credit - UH Manoa

"Rocky coastline on Hawaii Island." Credit - UH Manoa

We are excited to be a partner of UH Sea Grant and South Kohala Coastal Partnership for this incredible project. Post-fire erosion has always been a major concern for HWMO, so we linked up with Sierra Tobiason and the rest of the partnership for this forward-thinking project to provide any help we could, including funding support for fuels reduction (which has taken place at a couple of sites within the last month.) 

From the Source:

"The two-year Wai 2 Kai project will take place at five sites along the Waikoloa stream and within the Wai‘ula‘ula Watershed. At these sites volunteers will be recruited to install and maintain raingardens, participate in stream and beach clean-ups, remove invasive plant species, and help the project reach its goal of planting 20,000 native plants."

These native plant restoration and Wai 2 Kai volunteer activities were designed to not only restore and improve water quality, but to encourage long-lasting stewardship and understanding of the importance of healthy watersheds.

Said Tobiason, 'The organizations, agencies and community groups of the South Kohala Coastal Partnership have been instrumental in helping to develop collaborative stewardship opportunities to improve the water quality from wai to kai -- the stream to the ocean. It is very exciting to have so much community involvement and partnership support in this project as we work together to improve water quality and reduce impacts to coral reef ecosystems.'"

Honoring Our Heroes

Thanksgiving is coming early again this year, with the upcoming Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation Awards Dinner and Silent Auction on August 30th at the Fairmont Orchid. We are so grateful to call Frank Sayre a member of our Board of Directors and we say mahalo to all the firefighters, rescue specialists and lifeguards who risk their lives on a continual basis to save other people's lives. Hear some of the incredible stories in this article, which are a teaser to the talk story event at the end of the month.

From the Source: 

"The Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation was named after Laura Mallery-Sayre and Frank Sayre’s son 17 years ago. They told the Rotary members how in 1997, a day or two before their son, Dan, was leaving for college, he decided to go for a hike to one of his favorite spots in Pololu Valley near Kapaloa Falls. He fell from the side of the cliff, and it took a day and a half until he was located. He was so far into the valley that the rescue turned into a 10-hour operation.

As the rescue team was called off for the day, David Okita, helicopter pilot, came to help. The firefighters all volunteered to stay, and two were lowered in to the valley to reach the 25-year-old in a dangerous rescue in the dense forest – with the helicopter blades shredding trees during the attempt. When rescue workers finally reached Dan, the Sayres were told that their son hadn’t survived.

Mallery-Sayre said that watching the men in action and seeing their compassion and commitment firsthand in the couple’s greatest hour of need, spurred the Sayres to find a way to thank the rescuers. They found there was no formal way for them to recognize the men who had risked their lives.

The Sayres also learned that better equipment could have made their son’s rescue much safer and easier for the firefighters.

“The reason they had to risk their lives was because they didn’t have ropes that were long enough to reach Dan,” Mallery-Sayre said. 'It was amazing to us that with the terrain on the island that they didn’t have that sort of thing.'"

"'We started the foundation in 1997 with a dual purpose – to honor the men and women that went above and beyond the call of duty and to raise money to protect and save us and to protect and save themselves,' Frank Sayre told the group.

'How do you ever thank someone enough for risking their life … or volunteering to stay?' Mallery-Sayre said. 'That is one of the things that keeps me fired up every year. If we can save one life, then our efforts are all worthwhile.'"

Above: "The Sayres pose with members of the Rotary Club of North Hawaii after a weekly meeting on Aug. 13." (Credit - Lisa M. Dahm/NHN)

Above: "The Sayres pose with members of the Rotary Club of North Hawaii after a weekly meeting on Aug. 13." (Credit - Lisa M. Dahm/NHN)

With Hawaii's Year-Round Fire Season, Residents are Urged to Prepare

Hawaii Wildfire hits the front pages again. Read about how the upcoming wildfire preparedness workshops will prepare you far in advance of a wildfire occurring in your area. 

From the Source: 

"Heavy brush resulting from recent rains, followed by abnormal dryness, has created the ideal conditions for wildfire, and a Waimea-based nonprofit is urging residents to take precautions before the threat occurs. 

Inside the Ocean View Community Center Monday evening, the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization shared details from its latest wildland fire action guide, with hopes of getting the public to prepare and remember its message of “Ready, Set, Go!” This was the first in a series of hour-long workshops, happening now through Aug. 6 islandwide.

Fire season in Hawaii is a year-round reality, said Elizabeth Pickett, the organization’s executive director. Fires have increased in size, frequency and intensity on all islands over the years, particularly as towns expand into formerly undeveloped places and areas of fallow, invasive or unmanaged vegetation, and as human-caused fires, such as roadside ignitions, have increased.

Pickett also explained how nonnative, fire-adapted vegetation has rapidly spread, not just through wildland landscapes, but also in communities. She said these nonnative grasslands and shrubs now cover nearly a quarter of Hawaii’s total land area, and together with a warming, drying climate, greatly increase fire incidence.

Over the past decade, firefighters statewide battled more than 900 wildland fire ignitions, which burned more than 17,000 acres, each year. In recent years, large fires have occurred in North and South Kohala, North and South Kona, and Ka‘u. Such large fires — those more than 100 acres — are not a novelty, especially when considering data from the Pacific Fire Exchange which shows a steady increase over the past 50 years, Pickett said.

Increases in wildfire pose threats not just to human safety and infrastructure, but also agriculture, native ecosystems, cultural resources, watershed function and nearshore coastal resources, she added.

Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization collected fire records from all the fire response agencies in Hawaii, including the four county fire departments, the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Department of Defense records were not included because they’re classified for security reasons.

After making the records mapable and compatible, as well as logging the more than 13,500 fires in a database, the nonprofit was able to find trends and patterns of wildfire ignitions on the main Hawaii Islands. The result: “It’s really a lot of roadside ignitions,” Pickett said. “These maps have been a really good communication tool to get some of our decision-makers’ attention about fire prevention needing to be ramped up in regards to wildfire.”

During Monday’s meeting, officials mentioned how studies have shown that as many as 80 percent of the homes lost in wildland fires could have been saved if owners had done a few fire-safe practices. The new wildland action guide, called “Ready, Set, Go!,” offers Hawaii-specific information on how to prepare for wildland fire threat, have “situational awareness” during a fire, and how to leave safely.

Pickett said “Ready, Set, Go!” is the result of a nationwide discussion in the fire service on how to best protect homes, lives and resources in the wildland-urban interface, where development borders a natural area and the ember zone, which is an area where the embers from a wind-driven wildfire can ignite homes.

Pickett claimed the program had its roots in Australia’s “Stay and Defend” wildfire plan, which fire officials in the U.S. objected to because it might cause resources to be diverted from protecting structures to rescuing residents in fire areas. They also thought the risks inherent in not evacuating in advance of a wildfire outweighed any potential benefit.

The guide focuses on building defensible space around homes and structures, sharing materials that can make homes more firesafe, and revealing the impacts caused by wildland fire. It also offers checklists for residents, large landowners and land managers.

Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization began in 2000 and was incorporated two years later by various stakeholders, with the goal of characterizing wildfire threats and developing mitigation strategies. “Meant to be proactive and collaborative,” this nonprofit is “always in cahoots” with its partners, including the Pacific Fire Exchange, state Division of Forestry and Wildlife, University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, fire departments, and Civil Defense. The organization supplements and complements with activities already on the ground by doing projects that fit its partners’ needs, Pickett said.

Such projects include: building fuel breaks, putting in infrastructure like dip tanks, water troughs, fittings and adapters, holding workshops on making landscaping fire-wise and best management practices, and doing outreach. The organization also helps create community wildfire protection plans for free and has produced wildfire hazard assessments, which educate residents about the low, moderate and high hazards pertaining to 36 different criteria like ignition risk and water availability in their area.

The latest wildland fire action guide was one of the projects made possible through a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service, Pickett said.

The other workshops for “Ready, Set, Go!,” beginning at 6 p.m., are tonight at Waikoloa Community Association’s community room, Friday at the Cooper Center in Volcano, Monday at Pahala Elementary School, Tuesday at Thelma Parker Memorial Library in Waimea, July 31 at the West Hawaii Civic Center Liquor Control conference room, Aug. 4 at Konawaena Elementary School and Aug. 6 at the Hawaii Community College West Hawaii campus.

For more information, call 885-0900 or visit hawaiiwildfire.org."

Above: "Firefighters watch a brush fire burn in Kona in July 2013." Credit: West Hawaii Today

Above: "Firefighters watch a brush fire burn in Kona in July 2013." Credit: West Hawaii Today

Wildfire Preparedness Workshops Planned Islandwide

From the Source: 

"Hawaii is no stranger to its residents experiencing close calls with wildfires. In recent years, large fires have occurred in North and South Kohala, North and South Kona, and Ka‘u. Of note, the Waikoloa Fires of 2005 and 2007 would have engulfed the town of Waikoloa Village had first responders not been able to defend the village along its recently completed firebreaks. Every family, resident, and large landowner can avoid the danger and impacts of wildfire with adequate preparation.Unlike other natural hazards, wildfire is unique in that there are many things you can do ahead of time to reduce your risk of losing property or loved ones. Residents can take charge by strategically reducing vegetation around homes, fire-proofing homes and structures with non-combustible materials, and creating and practicing a thorough family emergency plan.

Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Waimea, will be hosting a series of free community wildfire preparedness workshops in some of the most fire-prone areas of the Big Island. Those who attend will learn about Hawaii’s wildfire issues and how they can mitigate those issues through proper home landscaping techniques and home structure modifications. They will also learn about how to develop a clear and achievable family emergency plan, what actions to take during a wildfire, and proper evacuation procedures.

Workshop Schedule:

July 21 — Ocean View Community Center, 92-8924 Leilani Circle

July 23 — Waikoloa Community Association Community Room, 68-1792 Melia St.

July 25 — Cooper Center, 19-4030 Wright Road, Volcano

July 28 — Pahala Elementary School, 96-3150 Pikake Place

July 29 — Thelma Parker Memorial Library, 67-1209 Mamalahoa Highway, Waimea

July 3 1 — Civic Center Liquor Control Conference Room, 2nd Floor of Building B, 74-5044 Ane Keohokalole Highway, Kona

Aug. 4 — Konawaena Elementary School, 81-901 Onouli Road

Aug. 6 — Hawaii Community College West Hawaii Campus, 81-964 Halekiai St.

Each workshop is 6-7 p.m.

For more information, contact: pablo@hawaiiwildfire.org or (808) 885-0900. Visit hawaiiwildfire.org."

Proposal Would Put Fire-Control Dip Tanks in Waikoloa Area

The HWMO media frenzy continues as our FEMA funding proposal for dip tank installation and fuels management projects  throughout the west side of Hawaii Island makes the West Hawaii Today!

(A note to the editor: Elizabeth Tickett should be Elizabeth Pickett.)

From the Source: 

"The Waikoloa area is a step closer to having a new series of dip tanks to help helicopters battle wildfires.

As many as five tanks would support aerial firefighting in areas that have long been recognized as particularly prone to wildland blazes, according to a recent draft environmental assessment. The project has been in the works for the greater part of a decade.

High winds and dry brush and grass make quick helicopter response vital to keep fires from spreading out of control, said Elizabeth Tickett, executive director for the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, based in Waimea. The group has applied for federal funding for the tanks and a program to clear flammable brush and grass around Waikoloa Village and Puako.

“Fire suppression is extremely difficult because a lot of things aren’t totally in place,” Tickett said. “We’re limited in water resources. And with such high winds, fires get really big fast.”

But the amount of money available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency — plus the actual number of the 12-foot diameter tanks that might be installed and when — is not yet clear. Once the organization knows how much federal funding it will receive, the nonprofit can work out how much more it needs to raise locally, Tickett said. The tanks cost around $18,000 each, according to bids from two years ago.

The 6,700-gallon tanks would hold water for firefighting and for livestock to be brought into new areas to graze down vegetation. The water would also be used to help fire-resistant native vegetation take root.

Dip tanks are being proposed for Waikoloa Village, Kuainiho, the 1859 lava flow, Ponoholo and Lalamilo. Ongoing maintenance will fall to a variety of local partners.

The Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization — made up of numerous individuals involved in fire suppression on the local and state level — has worked closely with the Hawaii County Fire Department to determine the best sites for the tanks, Tickett said.

Fire Chief Darren Rosario said the dip tanks provide a safer and more abundant source of water for helicopters than the agency’s “frog ponds,” which are 1,000-gallon portable containers that are set up near roadways and replenished with tankers.

“Dip tanks, strategically located, provide the greatest opportunity for us if a fire starts in an area that is inaccessible or located on an unimproved road,” Rosario said. “It takes a great deal of time to deploy our ground troops. The tanks allow our aircraft to get water on a fire on a much shorter turnaround.”

FEMA has indicated it will provide funds at the level of the original application, which dates back to 2006 — provided the EA process is followed through to completion. It’s not clear how much construction that would buy in today’s dollars.

The Waikoloa Village tank would be located in a 275-acre preserve managed by the Waikoloa Dryland Forest Initiative. Jen Lawson, initiative executive director, called the tank a win-win for fire suppression and for the 35 native species her group propagates.

“We’re trying to replace the nonnative grassland, which is the worst fire danger you can have out there,” said Lawson, who has focused on planting wiliwili and uhiuhi trees.

The Kuainiho tank would be placed on land the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife is currently managing for fire control along Highway 190. The tank at the 1859 lava flow would be located in the state Puuanahulu Game Management Area.

The Ponoholo tank is proposed for an area of privately owned ranch land to the northwest of the Kohala Ranch housing development. The Lalamilo tank would be located on state land being leased for ranching southwest of Waimea. Both locations had archaeological sites identified in the EA. Ponoholo and Lalamilo are not included in an alternative plan for the overall project because they would require the presence of an archaeologist during the installation process — a significant cost increase. No historical sites would be affected at the other locations, the EA found.

The Waikoloa fuel break would clear an area 0.5 miles long and 30 feet wide on the southern end of Waikoloa Village, on land owned by the village association, tying into an existing break near Pua Melia Street. Haole koa and fountain grass pose fire threats in the area.

In Puako, the clearing of brush, grading and mulching would take place in an area 2 miles long and 100 feet wide along the mauka side of Puako Beach Road, where dense, highly flammable kiawe forests and buffelgrass pose fire threats on state land.

West Hawaii has some of the most fire prone sites in the state. Native dryland forest sites — historically one of the most diverse ecosystems in the state — are imperiled, and only about 10 percent of original habitat still exists, according to the EA. Unlike some mainland ecosystems, Hawaii’s plants are not adapted to periodic fire, and invasive species have created large fuel loads that can easily ignite.

The EA is available at fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/93430."

A Hawaii County helicopter performs a water drop. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

A Hawaii County helicopter performs a water drop. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

State to Install Diptanks on Mauna Kea

We made the front page of West Hawaii Today, yet again! This time, we were mentioned for the hard work we have put towards installing dip tanks between Puuanahulu and Waikoloa. We were also accredited for helping demonstrate the high-frequency of wildfires in non-bare lava surface between Waimea and Puuwaawaa through our fire history mapping project. By showing the high-frequency of wildfires in these areas, we have helped attract funding for diptanks and other resources to assist fire fighters in the event of a wildfire. 

From the Source:

"In addition to the state’s planned fire diptanks, the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, with federal funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is finalizing environmental compliance needed to build tanks between Puuanahulu and Waikoloa, according to the assessment."

"According to the draft, maps of wildfires between 1954 and 2005 compiled by the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization show that most of the nonbare lava surface between Waimea and Puuwaawaa has burned, much of it multiple times."

Above: "A Hawaii County helicopter drops water on a fire Oct. 5 in Kailua-Kona. The state is moving forward with plans to construct two water tanks that will feed diptanks for helicopters to use while fighting fires on the southwestern slopes of Mauna Kea. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today FILE PHOTO)"

Above: "A Hawaii County helicopter drops water on a fire Oct. 5 in Kailua-Kona. The state is moving forward with plans to construct two water tanks that will feed diptanks for helicopters to use while fighting fires on the southwestern slopes of Mauna Kea. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today FILE PHOTO)"

Waikoloa Park Used to Demonstrate Fire Mitigation Techniques

HWMO made the front page news of West Hawaii Today! Shortly after the garden's opening West Hawaii Today published a quality article on the ceremonial event and the purpose of the garden.

From the Source:

"the garden holds many secrets to mitigating the hazards of a real brush fire"


"For fourth-grade Waikoloa School students Miko Domingo, Shamar Sarme and River Goldberg, having everyone realize just how much of an impact wildfires have had on the island and will continue to have in the future is important. The trio hopes that residents from around the island, not just those in South Kohala, will visit the park and take home some ideas to protect their own homes and communities."

Above: Photo courtesy of West Hawaii Today

Above: Photo courtesy of West Hawaii Today