agriculture

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.

Drought Kicks In - Wildfires Already on Kauai

Waimea Canyon Fire, 2017. Credit: The Garden Island / Mark Stainaker

Waimea Canyon Fire, 2017. Credit: The Garden Island / Mark Stainaker

Drought conditions are kicking in across the Hawaiian Islands, including on Kauai, where multiple brushfires have already burned. 75% of wildfires in Hawaii occur when the drought monitor is lit up. Now is the time to be ready using your Ready, Set, Go! Wildland Fire Action Guide and Wildfire LOOKOUT! tools.

From the Source:

While recovery from April 2018 floods continues on the North Shore, the Westside is looking at severe drought conditions through September.

“We’re already seeing agriculture impacts, especially for the ranchers and we’re expecting a more active brushfire season,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hydrologist, Kevin Kodama in a Wednesday press conference.

El Nino Impacts Likely Through Winter, Into Spring - Higher Potential for Large Wildfires in Hawaii

“A Hawaii County firefighter monitors a brush fire.” (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

“A Hawaii County firefighter monitors a brush fire.” (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

El Nino means a higher potential for large fires throughout much of Hawaii. Be prepared by going through the Ready Set Go! Action Guide and WildfireLOOKOUT! materials — there are many ways to get involved and Take Action.

From the Source:

El Nino has more than one impact on water. It doesn’t just heat it up, it changes how much falls from the sky and when.

Matthew Foster, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu, said NWS has forecast a 90 percent chance of El Nino in the winter and a 60 percent chance it persists into the spring.

According to North Ops Predictive Services, rainfall totals are projected below normal levels from December through the spring months assuming an El Nino takes hold and hangs around.

Because of this, and despite rainfall through last summer and fall that left green grass crop in several areas across the state, large fire potential is expected to increase to above normal levels from January to March.

“December was still neutral conditions,” Foster said, “(But) it would be expected drier than normal over the next few months.”

New Year’s Eve and Day were jointly characterized by three separate blazes in West Hawaii alone, two in the area of Waikoloa Village and one above Hawaiian Homes in Kawaihae.

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.”

Hokukano Ranch Fire Burns 350 Acres

Hokukano Ranch fire as detected by NASA satellite.

Hokukano Ranch fire as detected by NASA satellite.

From the Source:

Firefighters are working to douse a brush fire ignited by lightning Sunday afternoon in a remote area of Hokukano Ranch.

Responding to a 2:04 p.m. report, firefighters from Captain Cook arrived at the scene 7 miles up Hokukano Ranch Road to find two moderate-sized brush fires burning about 50 acres in a very remote area with no radio or phone coverage, according to a media release from the Hawaii Fire Department. The department noted that someone witnessed lightning strikes in the area around the time the fire started.

Wahiawa Brush Fire Scorches 75 Acres of Land

The Wahiawa Fire could be seen from miles away. Credit: Savaughn Johnson

The Wahiawa Fire could be seen from miles away. Credit: Savaughn Johnson

From the Source:

Honolulu firefighters are investigating the cause of a Wahiawa brush fire that charred 75 acres of land on Whitmore Avenue Friday night.

Police shut down Kamehameha Highway from Dole Plantation to Whitmore Avenue as city and federal fire crews worked to douse the flames.

HFD officials believe the fire started on Saipan Road, which leads to a military installation. The area, which has a homeless encampment, is known for illegal dumping.

Waianae Brush Fire Damages 17-Lots at Waianae Agricultural Park

Credit: KITV4

Credit: KITV4

It pains us to hear this news - we know how much sweat, toil, and care goes into farming. If you are a farmer who was impacted by the fire, we are with you. HDOA's Agricultural Loan Division is also offering the farmers financial assistance since the state essentially owns the park.

If you are a farmer or rancher or manage large areas of land, the ReadySetGo! wildfire preparedness guide has a detailed step-by-step guide on how to prepare your lands for wildfire. Also, Pacific Fire Exchange has great resources for developing your own pre-fire  plans.

From the Source:

The brush fire in Waianae damaged all 17 state-lots at Wai'anae Agricultural Park. 

The 150-acre park is home to crops like tomatoes, kale and palms. After the fire ripped through Waianae Valley, what's left are its charred remains. 

The Waianae Ag Park is one of 10 in the state of Hawaii and one of four on Oahu. The state's Department of Agriculture says all 17 lots in Waianae suffered damages in the brush fire: four are total losses.

Apart from crops, several structures on those farm lots were destroyed. Some even lost vehicles, tools and equipment in the fire. The state says irrigation systems were also severely damaged

Maui Brush Fire Scorches 10 acres at Kula Agricultural Park

"Maui firefighters are battling a brush fire in Kula Agriculture Park on Sunday." Credit: Maui Fire Department

"Maui firefighters are battling a brush fire in Kula Agriculture Park on Sunday." Credit: Maui Fire Department

From the Source:

Maui fire officials say that a brush fire on Sunday has scorched 10 acres of land in the area of Pulehu Road near Kula Agriculture Park.

MFD crews responded to the fire at around 2:15 p.m. and arrived to find an active fire in dry brush in the area. Firefighters are having difficulty putting out the fires due to shifting winds, according to officials.

Haleakala Highway Cane Fire Consumes 100 Acres of Fallow Land

"Football fans at War Memorial Stadium watch a game Thursday night while a brush fire lights up Central Maui and blackens former sugar cane fields. The blaze was fully contained at 2:03 a.m. Friday. It consumed about 100 acres. A cause had not been determined as of Friday night. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo"

"Football fans at War Memorial Stadium watch a game Thursday night while a brush fire lights up Central Maui and blackens former sugar cane fields. The blaze was fully contained at 2:03 a.m. Friday. It consumed about 100 acres. A cause had not been determined as of Friday night. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo"

With more and more lands going fallow, fire will continue to be on the rise in places like Central Maui where acres upon acres of cane are no longer being managed. Creative land management solutions that reduce wildfire risk will need to continue to be part of the discussion as we move forward. Thank you to Maui firefighters for keeping this fire at bay!

From the Source:

"Passing motorists alerted firefighters at 3:56 p.m. Thursday to the fire that started on the south grassy shoulder of Haleakala Highway in the vicinity of North Firebreak Road, he said. Kahului firefighters were on the scene at 4:04 p.m., and by then it had grown to 2 to 3 acres and could not be contained.

Gusty trade winds fanned the fire, spreading it quickly into a fallow cane field, Taomoto said."

Wailuku Brush Fire Scorches 4 Acres

Wailuku Brush Fire on Saturday, September 23, 2017. Credit: Ryan Brem / Maui Now

Wailuku Brush Fire on Saturday, September 23, 2017. Credit: Ryan Brem / Maui Now

Time and time again, access is a critical issue for our firefighters in Hawaii. Some access issues are very preventable but will take cooperation and communication from landowners with firefighters. Thankfully, because of firefighting efforts, this fire did not get larger than it could have.

From the Source:

"Crews had trouble getting to the fire because of an abandoned vehicle blocking an old plantation road off of the highway.

Firefighters had to park on Kahekili Highway and ran hoses about 100 yards through the brush to get to the fire."

Haleakala Highway and South Point Fires Burn on Maui and Big Island

Be on the alert - with drought conditions and strong winds, fires can become out of control or change direction quickly and can threaten homes, roadways, or other critical areas. Take precaution and stay tuned to local radio stations and county alerts. And remember to evacuate early should the fire become a threat to your neighborhood.

From the Source:

"On Maui, fighters are battling a fire along Haleakala Highway on the ground and by air. The fire was reported just before 4 p.m., and has since scorched 80 to 100 acres of old sugar cane crop."

Haleakala Highway Fire - September 21, 2017. Credit: Asa Ellison / Hawaii News Now

Haleakala Highway Fire - September 21, 2017. Credit: Asa Ellison / Hawaii News Now

Kaalualu Fire - September 21, 2017. Credit: Kane Thomas

Kaalualu Fire - September 21, 2017. Credit: Kane Thomas

"On Hawaii Island, a large brush fire near South Point in Ka'u has forced crews to issue a warning to residents.

They say the smoke could make it hard to see and make it harder to breathe near Waiohinu. Residents are being asked to stay out of the area.

Emergency responders say the fire broke out about 4 hours ago in Kaalualu. 

Fire crews can't expect much help from the weather in battling the flames either.

Winds are running at brisk speeds throughout the state making it difficult for firefighters to extinguish both fires. Rain is also scarce in those areas, and fire crews will remain on scene." 

Dry Year So Far for Big Island

"The flood channel that runs under the intersection of Kinoole and Mohouli streets in Hilo was dry Tuesday." Credit - Hollyn Johnson / Hawaii Tribune-Herald

"The flood channel that runs under the intersection of Kinoole and Mohouli streets in Hilo was dry Tuesday." Credit - Hollyn Johnson / Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Drier conditions, even on the wet side, means a higher potential for wildfire. You might live in the green, but when severe droughts occur, anywhere can be at risk for fire. Be prepared, have a plan, and stay vigilant using the Ready, Set, Go! Wildland Fire Action Guide and Wildfire Lookout!

From the Source:

"Hilo is on pace to have one of its drier years on record, and July’s rainfall totals brought little if any relief to drought-affected areas of the Big Island, according to the National Weather Service in Honolulu."

"'It’s been pretty dry up on the Hamakua Coast and down into the the leeward South Kohala district. They’re considered to be under severe drought as well as the interior section of the Big Island. The eastern side of Pohakuloa Training Area has been pretty dry. The western side has been getting some spotty rain, so some of the gauges there are pretty close to normal,' Kodama said Monday.

The most recent drought statement from the weather service said ranchers in leeward South Kohala 'have destocked pastures' due to 'very poor vegetation conditions.' It noted that pastures in Ookala, where Big Island Dairy operates, and in Paauilo were becoming dry, and a ginger farmer in Umauma reported stunted growth in his crops."

Fire Scorches Five Acres in Former Wailuku Macadamia Nut Fields

Credit: Anthony Procter / Contributed to Hawaii News Now

Credit: Anthony Procter / Contributed to Hawaii News Now

Agricultural lands that are turning fallow are a major contributor to the increase in wildfire activity across the state, especially on Maui. Access was very limited due to overgrown and narrow dirt roads. Keeping lands active and managed can help firefighters in a number of ways, including having access roads maintained, reducing large areas of flammable vegetation, and having extra fire suppression equipment on the scene.

From the Source:

"According to Maui fire officials, firefighters were dispatched around 1:40 p.m. to an area mauka of Kahekili Highway between Makaala Drive and Waiehu Beach Road.  

Heavy smoke was seen in the area as narrow dirt roads and over-grown brush made it difficult for crews to access the flames.

Once they reached the fire, crews worked into the night to fully extinguish the flames. It was fully extinguished just after 5 p.m., and deemed 100 percent contained just after 11 p.m."

Clean-Up Efforts Underway in Waimea Following 2,200 Acre Brush Fire

"Land is visibly charred near Highway 190 in Waimea Saturday. Friday's runaway brush fire Friday burned 2,200-acres, destroyed a home and closed the highway for several hours." Credit: Tom Callis / Hawaii Tribune Herald

"Land is visibly charred near Highway 190 in Waimea Saturday. Friday's runaway brush fire Friday burned 2,200-acres, destroyed a home and closed the highway for several hours." Credit: Tom Callis / Hawaii Tribune Herald

Our hearts go out to the residents who lost their home during Friday's runaway brushfire in Waimea that burned 2,200 acres of land. Fortunately, no one was injured but one lost home affects our whole community. We also wish Parker Ranch the best for its recovery after losing several miles of water line and fencing and other infrastructure (as well as grazing land). Parker Ranch has been a long-time partner of HWMO's and they are a major event sponsor for the upcoming Firefighter Chili Cook-Off benefit on August 26th. 

From the Source:

“'As to why it started, and how it started, we don’t know. We have a burn ban in West Hawaii, so no one should be burning anything, so on that part, it’s illegal, but I don’t think it was an intentionally set brush fire.'"

"'It burned around (2,200 acres), and we’re expecting most of that to be ours,” Guilloz said. 'We had several miles of water line burned and fencing as well that has been burned. They were able to save most of our water tanks, but right now we’re still (assessing).'"

Waimea Canyon Fire Largest of Three

Credit: Mark Stainaker / The Garden Island

Credit: Mark Stainaker / The Garden Island

Kauai may have been blessed with rains of late, but that also means further growth of unmanaged flammable vegetation. Waimea Canyon, no stranger to large wildfire incidents, makes for difficult firefighting conditions. We thank first responders for their hard work on these challenging fires.

From the Source:

"State and county firefighting crews continue to battle a brush fire that is burning at the western edge of Waimea Canyon Tuesday. The fire is one of three that scorched over 60 acres of brush since yesterday.

About 30 DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildfire personal, along with the Kauai Fire Department, are establishing a control area between the 800- to 1,500-foot elevation of the mountain, amid grassland and haole koa shrubs. No homes or structures are threatened."

'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."

Maui Firefighters Extinguish Kula Agricultural Park Brush Fire

Credit: Asa Ellison/Special to KHON2

HWMO is in the final stages of completing the Upcountry Maui Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP), which will be up on our website soon. More and more wildfires are threatening Upcountry Maui, as witnessed with the latest brush fire that burned around 3 acres off of Pulehu Road below the Kula Agricultural Park. HWMO will be working with Waiohuli Hikina residents in Kula to help them become a Firewise Community this Fall, in preparation of the increase in wildfire activity in the area. 

From the Source: 

"It started at around 3:22 p.m. off Pulehu Road, below Kula Agricultural Park.

Fire officials say it burned two acres north of the road, and one acre to the south of it."

Brush Fire in Makawao Scorches 200 Acres of Land

Credit: Maui Fire Department

Glad to hear all are safe after a very close call with a wildfire in Makawao on Thursday. There are a number of ways to ensure your home is better protected from wildfires. Visit the Wildfire & Drought Look Out! page for details.

From the Source:

"Maui firefighters are concluding operations on a brush fire on Thursday in a gulch near the Kamehameha Schools' Maui campus that officials say has burned about 200 acres."

"Strong winds of up to 25 mile an hour spread the flames quickly but officials say the pineapples and sugar cane fields have helped to slow the fire.

Officials say the fire came within 30 feet of homes within the area, and that evacuations were ordered for a short time. Residents have been returned to their homes."

Drought Intensifies in Hawaii, Extreme Conditions in Kona

Credit: United States Drought Monitor

El Niño is causing severe drought conditions in much of Hawaii Island and the rest of the state is now experiencing moderate drought. With dry conditions come the potential for wildfires. Be aware of your surroundings and make sure to remove all dead or dry grasses, shrubs, or trees around your home.

From the Source:

"'Farmers on the Kona slopes of the Big Island have indicated that conditions are the worst in recent memory,' the NWS stated, 'even including 2010 which was a significant drought year for the area. Kona coffee growers have indicated that the drought will adversely affect this year’s crop.'"

"There are troubling reports even in the normally wet Hilo and Puna districts. 'A rancher near Pahoa reported selling 20 percent of his herd due to poor pasture conditions,' the National Weather Service reported. 'Another rancher who works on the upper slopes of the South Hilo district reported the loss of 28 cows due to the lack of rain and the poor forage. In upper Hilo town, an aquaculture operation lost sturgeon because of low stream flow conditions.'"

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."