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Fire Is the One Hawaii Disaster We Can Avoid

The August 2018 wildfires in Waianae Valley. Credit: Clay Trauernicht

The August 2018 wildfires in Waianae Valley. Credit: Clay Trauernicht

An excellent article by Dr. Clay Trauernicht, wildland fire specialist of University of Hawaii CTAHR Cooperative Extension and Pacific Fire Exchange.

Not only does he explain why wildfires in Hawaii have burned 30,000 acres in August 2018, (more than double the annual average), but that it was predictable and there is much people can do to prevent wildfires. Dr. Trauernicht specifically sites the Wildfire LOOKOUT! tips for wildfire prevention.

To learn more about what you can do to protect your home and community from wildfire, visit HawaiiWildfire.org/lookout

From the Source:

Vegetation may be the most problematic issue facing fire management in Hawaii. Simply put, our communities and forests now exist amid an ocean of fire-prone grasslands and shrublands — about a million acres statewide. This is mostly a consequence of benign neglect as the value of real estate outweighs the value of maintaining production landscapes. Our agricultural and ranching footprint has declined by more than 60 percent across the state….

So what can we do about it? Awareness and education is the first step. Multiple state and county agencies and non-profits are working on this via the Hawaii Wildfire Lookout! Campaign, spearheaded by the Department of Land and Natural Resources and Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization. Fire prevention education can reduce accidental fires. Homes can be “hardened” to reduce the risk of loss. Communities can become “firewise” and organize to take actions such as increasing access for firefighters and reducing hazardous fuels near homes.

Vegetation is in some sense the simplest issue to tackle because it is the only fire hazard we can directly manage.  Yet it is also the most challenging due to the scale of the problem — the million acres of grasslands and shrublands across the state. There are multiple solutions for reducing risk in these fuels: fuel breaks, targeted grazing, prescribed fire, the restoration of agricultural and native ecosystems. There are also regulatory measures that can help such as firewise building and development codes.

Check out this letter to the editor from a former Firewise Co-Chair for Launiupoko, Ms. Linda Jenkins, who talks about their Firewise outreach efforts as a pathway forward.

”We completed assessments and provided all our neighbors with tips on how to make their homes and properties fire wise. An extensive public education campaign was conducted and we received our Firewise certification. We circulated tips on how to build a home and lay out a property to reduce fire risk. We also circulated tips on how to make your existing property and already built home safer.

This was successful in that many people made simple changes to their properties. I was also on the board at Makila and we maintained the sides of the bike path to create a fire break and kept our grass verges green.”

2018 Has Been a Wild Year for Wildfires, Far Surpassing Numbers Since 2015

"HFD keeps up with a busy season for brush fires in the summer months." Credit: Hawaii News Now

"HFD keeps up with a busy season for brush fires in the summer months." Credit: Hawaii News Now

2018 wildfire season has kept firefighters busy, scorched native forests, forced numerous evacuations, burned homes and businesses...and it is only August.

As Hurricane Lane approaches, threatening to add another impact to the list, post-fire flooding and landslides, we want to remind you that there is a lot you can do to protect your home and family from wildfires. Great tips provided by HPD, aligned with Wildfire LOOKOUT! info.

From the Source:

Combined, more than 30,000 acres total across Hawaii have been blackened by wildfires this year alone. That's compared to 2017 where nearly 7,700 acres were burned, according to the Pacific Fire Exchange's 2017 wildfire summary.

Capt. Seguirant says the easiest way to reduce the risk is by maintaining homes and yards in dry summer months, and keeping brush trimmed back. It's also important to clear porches, gutters and declutter outdoor spaces. 

"Just remove any wood piles, lumber, anything that can actually catch on fire," he said. "You want to make sure you put those things away. Trim back your fire break. Make sure there's 10 to 30 feet of cleared brush between your home."

Falling embers could land and could spark a fire, he said. While grilling outdoors, ensure proper safety precautions are in place and there is no dry brush around. Dispose of hot coal properly, in fire-safe bins provided at many county parks.

HFD also reminds everyone to have an emergency evacuation kit and a plan ready just in case wildfires threaten homes.

"Be ready to evacuate. Get your 'Go Bag.' When you get the call to quickly leave, at that point, belongings and material things can be replaced," Capt. Seguirant said. 

He says before evacuating, secure your home by locking doors and closing windows to prevent embers from entering the house, and possibly causing your home to go up in flames. 

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.

'Good Neighbors' Help to Fight Fires in Remote Kahikinui Homestead

Excellent, in-depth article of the recent PFX Field Tour of Kahikinui, the community's history and past struggles with large wildfires, and the bright future ahead of them for their preparedness efforts. Mahalo to the Maui News for the great coverage and to Leeward Haleakala Watershed Partnership and Pacific Fire Exchange for coordinating the field tour.

From the Source:

"There have been some smaller meetings with the community and adjacent landowners in the past, but this was the first time so many people with such a broad range of experience and interest in collaboration came together that I'm aware of," said Andrea Buckman, coordinator for the Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership, who organized the event along with the Pacific Fire Exchange.

Kahikinui resident Ainoa Kaiaokamalie and others joined Pacific Fire Exchange, Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership, Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, and a variety of other stakeholders for the field tour. Photo Credit: The Maui News

Kahikinui resident Ainoa Kaiaokamalie and others joined Pacific Fire Exchange, Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership, Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, and a variety of other stakeholders for the field tour. Photo Credit: The Maui News

"In the meantime, grant funding is also an option for the community. One available program is the U.S. Forest Service Wildland Urban Interface grant, which provides funding for projects related to fire education, planning and prevention. Through this grant, the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization already has $5,000 for a fuel reduction project in Kahikinui that must be matched by cash or volunteer hours."

"Currently, Kahikinui is working to become a certified Firewise Community through the help of the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization. Pablo Beimler, the organization's community outreach coordinator, said that he expects Kahikinui to receive its certification by the end of the year. Being certified would help push Kahikinui higher on grant funding lists and could reduce insurance costs in the future, he said.

Trauernicht said that the prevention projects being considering 'are always cheaper in the long run' when compared to the costs of restoring forests, livestock fuel and homes."

Organizations Kick Off Wildfire and Drought Look Out! Campaign

Credit - Molly Solomon/HPR

HWMO and its partners statewide worked together to launch Wildfire & Drought Look Out!, Hawaii's first coordinated statewide wildfire outreach campaign. Here are a number of news clippings from TV, radio, and newspaper sources and the links to each source.

 

KHON2:

“‘I have been preparing for it for years now,’ said Momoa. ‘Ever since I moved in there, I could see the vision that it was going to burn soon.’”

Big Island Now:

“‘We have set up both a public and a media page on the HWMO website. The public page will have loads of information for home and property owners on how best to prepare for the possibility of wildfire well in advance,’ said HWMO Executive Director Elizabeth Pickett. ‘We’ll include water saving information which is really topical during this prolonged drought event in many areas across the state, largely caused by El Nino weather conditions.’

HWMO will also maintain and manage a media page, where partners can contribute story ideas and leads for reporters and their news organizations.”

Maui News:

“Prevention suggestions include:

* Clearing combustible materials near homes and lanais.

* Keeping grass short and tree branches off of the ground.

* Creating a defensible space at least 100 feet around a home.

* Removing leaves and debris from gutters and roofs.

* Covering eaves and vents with -inch mesh.

* Creating and practicing a family evacuation plan.”

HPR:

“With an above-average fire season ahead, state officials stress a need for public awareness. Hawai‘i Wildfire Management Organization is a nonprofit that’s working with federal, state and local agencies to kick start a campaign to provide information and tips for homeowners. More information can be found on their website, hawaiiwildfire.org.”

Honolulu Civil Beat:

More than 60 percent of the state is experiencing moderate drought conditions, and parts of the Big Island are facing extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Credit - Clay Trauernicht

“We hope this campaign, which has both a public and a media component, will educate and inform everyone living in and visiting Hawaii about the year-around threat of wildfires,” DLNR Director Suzanne Case said in a release.

Hookele News:

“The campaign seeks to educate homeowners and communities and empower them to take proactive steps that reduce the chances of wildfire ignition and create safer conditions for our firefighters.”

 

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."

CTAHR Researchers Construct 108-Year Wildfire History Impacting Hawaiian Islands

"Flames move uphill in Oahu wildfire." Credit: PFX

"Flames move uphill in Oahu wildfire." Credit: PFX

Our partners from UH CTAHR, Drs. Clay Trauernicht and Creighton Litton are developing some fascinating research regarding 108-years of wildfire history in Hawaii. 

From the Source:

"In a paper published in Pacific Science, Trauernicht, Litton and collaborators drew on multiple sources to construct a 108-year fire history that demonstrates a more-than-fourfold increase in the area burned annually statewide in recent decades. Within the past decade, the state has experienced an average of more than 1,000 fires burning over 20,000 acres each year. Relative to total land area, the percentage of Hawai‘i that burned annually from 2005 to 2011 was comparable to, and in some years exceeded, that of the western United States."

"'Given the increasing threat of wildfire to communities and resources, and its disregard for property lines, wildfire management provides an opportunity to bring together diverse interests and stakeholders to work towards a common goal,” said Trauernicht.'"