natural fires

A Warming Planet Could Trigger More Intense Wildfire Season in Hawaii

Credit: National Park Service

Credit: National Park Service

Over the last several years, HWMO has prioritized adaptive measures such as Firewise Communities and strategic, cross-boundary vegetation management planning to ready areas for the rapidly changing conditions causing more and larger wildfires in Hawaii. The gravity of the situation is real with climate change, but there is so much we can do in our own communities to prepare for wildfires and other climate hazards. Learn how by visiting our Take Action page and the Wildfire Lookout! page.

Check out this excellent article with some of our close partners, including Dr. Clay Trauernicht and Michael Walker, who were interviewed and data that HWMO was instrumental in laying the groundwork for — the statewide wildfire history database we produced with our fire agency partners. Although sobering, it is great to see this data put to use for a better understanding of how climate change affects Hawaii locally.


From the Source:

In Hawaii, wildfires generally ignite during the dry season, typically between May and November, when it's hotter, drier and windier outside.

But models show that the drier leeward areas, where fires are more frequent, will see even less rainfall as a result of climate change, exacerbating drought conditions and expanding the length of Hawaii's dry season.

That means more favorable conditions for brush fires to ignite.

And non-native grasslands and shrubs — which cover nearly a fourth of Hawaii's total land area — are highly adapted to fire, meaning they thrive when they burn and come back really quickly, researchers say. And the drier it is, the harder it is for forests to recover in those spots.

Hotter days could spell longer-lasting brush fires, meaning more hours for firefighters and greater potential for damage to infrastructure.

And it's only going to get hotter. A regional NOAA report estimates that in Hawaii, temperatures are expected to rise by 4 to 5 degrees by 2085 — under a worst case emission scenario.

"If you have hotter days, the conditions that are going to promote your most active fires — like the hottest, windiest conditions — have the potential to last longer for hours within a span of a day," Trauernicht said, pointing to the Makaha fire that continued burning in the early evening, when temperatures are normally dropping and humidity levels usually go up.

Lava-Related Brush Fire Claims Four Homes Near Kapoho

"This photo of the western margin of the lava flow at the oceanfront was taken Sunday. The western flow margin did not advance overnight, and remained approximately 0.1 mile from the Pohoiki Boat Ramp at Isaac Hale Beach Park this morning." Credit: USGS

"This photo of the western margin of the lava flow at the oceanfront was taken Sunday. The western flow margin did not advance overnight, and remained approximately 0.1 mile from the Pohoiki Boat Ramp at Isaac Hale Beach Park this morning." Credit: USGS

We are very sorry to hear about the continual loss of homes from the eruption -- this time caused by lava-related brushfires. 

From the Source:

Four houses were destroyed Saturday by a brush fire along Kilauea volcano’s lower East Rift Zone.

The houses were in the Halekamahina Road area off Highway 132 near Kapoho, according to Janet Snyder, spokeswoman for Mayor Harry Kim.

Hawaii County residents with losses as a result of the Kilauea eruptions and earthquakes have through Monday, Aug. 13, to register for disaster assistance with FEMA, which can be done at the DRC, weekdays 8 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturdays, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

Registration can also be done online at DisasterAssistance.gov or by phone at 800-621-3362 or (TTY) 800-462-7585. Applicants who use 711 or Video Relay service may call 800-621-3362. The toll-free numbers are open 7 a.m.-10 p.m. seven days a week.

Integrating Traditional Ecological Knowledge and World Renewal Ceremonies into Fire Adaptation: An Indigenous Stewardship Model

"Shown in this image is a California-hazel-stem basket holding tanoak acorns that were collected from the 2015 Klamath River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (TREX) burn area. Also shown is a Karuk woman’s “work” basket cap and an acorn cooking paddle made of Pacific maple. These are a few of the resources used by Karuk women to gather and prepare acorn soup. This burn reduced acorn pests, cleared out surface and ladder fuels to improved acorn gathering, and maintained the tanoak cavity at the base of this older tree. Cavities like this are important habitat for animals that hunt small game that eat acorns. "  Credit: Frank Lake, USDA Forest Service and Karuk Tribe.

"Shown in this image is a California-hazel-stem basket holding tanoak acorns that were collected from the 2015 Klamath River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (TREX) burn area. Also shown is a Karuk woman’s “work” basket cap and an acorn cooking paddle made of Pacific maple. These are a few of the resources used by Karuk women to gather and prepare acorn soup. This burn reduced acorn pests, cleared out surface and ladder fuels to improved acorn gathering, and maintained the tanoak cavity at the base of this older tree. Cavities like this are important habitat for animals that hunt small game that eat acorns. "

Credit: Frank Lake, USDA Forest Service and Karuk Tribe.

In Hawaii, traditional ecological knowledge plays a critical role in the path forward towards more resilient and vibrant landscapes and communities. For example, restoring native dryland plants that are culturally significant along watersheds and even around your own home, helps to also reduce fire threats and impacts to our communities, lands, and waters. Hawaii is not alone in integrating traditional ecological knowledge with fire adaptation, there are many other great examples globally, including in the mainland U.S.:

From the Source: 

"The Karuk Tribe’s Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and belief systems are constructed and preserved in the form of stories, practices, performances and ongoing interactions with the natural world. Among such rituals include our World Renewal Ceremonies, which the Karuk Tribe has practiced since time immemorial. These ceremonies have been passed down for millennia, and are a key part of our local communities’ social fabric. They link human practices like fishing, hunting and gathering to responsibility. They also ceremonially align our culture with ecosystem process and function. In our worldview, cultural resources have a life, as do the people using them. Each life deserves consideration when planning projects, including fire adaptation projects."

Wildfires Are Essential: The Forest Service Embraces a Tribal Tradition

"Rony Reed, a Karuk tribal member, participates in a burn at Bacon Flat in Orleans, California. Photo by Stormy Staats / Klamath Salmon Media Collaborativemaker."

"Rony Reed, a Karuk tribal member, participates in a burn at Bacon Flat in Orleans, California. Photo by Stormy Staats / Klamath Salmon Media Collaborativemaker."

This was a really interesting read that highlights Karuk and their use of community-based prescribed burning as part of a larger cultural and ecological renaissance and to change the narrative on certain misconceptions about their relationship to fire. The article also highlights how the merging of science and culture are essential, especially in the face of climate change.

From the Source:

"This marks the third year the Karuk have helped run and organize the community burning program, a joint venture between the tribe and several groups, including a local watershed council and the nonprofit Nature Conservancy, which uses the burn as part of its own national training program in controlled burning. For the Karuk, the program marks a historic turn from years of being labeled as arsonists for lighting the fires that belief says they are required to perform. It’s also a tribute to the fact that controlled or prescribed burning is becoming in vogue among scientific and resource management circles. The Karuk hope their young fire program will be the start of a sustainable, community-based effort leading to a cultural and ecological revival for the tribe."

Lightning, Tornadoes and Mice: The Science Behind Bushfires

Flickr.com: Bert Knottenbeld

Even though Australia is miles away from Hawaii, there are many commonalities with how wildfires (or bushfires, as they call it) behave on the continent versus Hawaii. Here’s a great article that explains how bushfires work — see if you can draw the parallels with Hawaii. The main difference? Wildfire is part of a natural cycle in Australian ecosystems, unlike in Hawaii where it is an introduced cycle.

From the Source:

“Peak fire conditions occur when there's a period of significant rainfall that causes plants to grow, followed by a hot spell that dries out this fuel. This means the bushfire seasons vary around Australia.”

“Bushfires typically move in a front — a thin line of burning grass or forest that inches forward as new material catches alight.

Radiant heat from the fire front warms the air ahead, drying out fuel, and causing volatile gases inside wood to escape – thus priming new fuel for the approaching fire.”

“Strong winds can sometimes blow burning embers ahead of the fire front, setting alight new patches of fuel in a process known as "spotting".

These patches of fire can then quickly grow and join up, forming one giant blaze, hundreds of metres or even kilometres wide. Such an event, known as "deep flaming", is more difficult for firefighters to control.

The heat and smoke given off from deep flaming can even create "pyrocumulonimbus" clouds that form over a bushfire.”

“'Different species have different life cycles, and some of their aspects of reproduction and regeneration may be linked to fire,' Professor Bradstock said.

An example of such a plant is the acacia, which requires the heat of a bushfire to crack its seed pods so it can germinate.”

West Hawaii Fire Still Burning, Highway 190 Remains Closed

Initial hours of the now 2,500 acre wildfire. Photo credit: Rachel Riley.

Due to a 2,500-acre fire apparently caused by a lightning strike that is still blazing near Puuwaawaa, Highway 190 remains closed between Makalei Street and Daniel K. Inouye Highway junction. Please follow any advisories and directions from emergency responders when on the road. Waikoloa Road and Kaiminani Drive are the current detour routes.

From the Source:

"According to the Department of Land and Natural Resoures’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the fire has burned an estimated 2,000-2,500 acres, as of early this morning. The number is a big increase from the previous night, when the Hawai’i County Fire Department said that the brush fire burned 1,300 acres."

"As the fire has gotten closer to the road, it has allowed ground crews to assist in putting out the blaze. Initially, the fire moved toward the ocean, limiting fire operations to helicopter water drops. When the wind switched directions, it blew the blaze back towards the road, easing access."

Oahu Hit Hard By Wildfires, Study Finds

Drs. Clay Trauernicht and Creighton Litton (both at University of Hawaii, CTAHR) gave excellent interviews regarding wildfires in Hawaii and the threats they pose on people and landscapes. Honolulu Star-Advertiser placed the story front and center on their Sunday paper and Hawaii Public Radio filled the airwaves about the scale and scope of Hawaii’s wildfire issues— information likely new to much of their audiences.  

In addition to Trauernicht and Litton of UH CTAHR, Elizabeth Pickett of HWMO was a co-author, along with Christian Giardina and Susan Cordell of the US Forest Service, and Andrew Beavers at the Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands at Colorado State University. HWMO created the database and fire history map that was the foundation of the research.  The research article can be found here:
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283685661_The_Contemporary_Scale_and_Context_of_Wildfire_in_Hawai'i_1

"Firefighters battled a brush fire in upper Makakilo in August 2014. Authorities later determined that the fire was started by two boys playing with a lighter." (Krystle Marcellus/Honolulu Star Advertiser)

From the Source:

"'People don’t typically think of wildfire as a frequent disturbance on tropical islands,' said Trauernicht in a UH release Friday.

But between 2005 and 2011, there were about 1,007 wildfires statewide that burned an average of about 20,000 acres, the researchers found.

A 108-year history showed a more-than-fourfold increase in acreage burned annually statewide, they found."

"'Oahu is off the charts,' he said, adding that Maui averaged about 200 wildfires annually."

"Observers say in Hawaii, more homes being built near open brush land sometimes force firefighters to place themselves dangerously between the fires and houses."

Sequoias and Historic Stump in Path of California Wildfire

" Sequoia trees in Grant Grove are charred in Kings Canyon National Park, California, on September 12, 2015." Credit: National Geographic

"Sequoia trees in Grant Grove are charred in Kings Canyon National Park, California, on September 12, 2015." Credit: National Geographic

Thick, fire-resistant bark and a massive canopy can protect trees from wildfires, most notably: giant sequoias. Native trees like koa can also use their canopies to their advantage by shading out fire-loving undergrowth, reducing the amount of fuel for a fire. Unfortunately, most native plants in Hawaii do not regenerate well after a wildfire, unlike sequoias. Our fire ecosystems in Hawaii can differ vastly from the mainland, but some things hold true for all.

From the Source:

"'They are a fire-dependent species that are well adapted to survive burns,' says Nichols. 'In fact, fire helps them get the next generation of sequoias started.' That’s because fire encourages the trees to drop their cones en masse. The blaze knocks out competition from other plants and provides a great shot of fertilizer in the form of ash. (Learn more about sequoias and fire.)'

Sequoias have fibrous, fire-resistant bark that can grow up to two-feet thick, insulating them from damage, says Stephen C. Sillett, a Humboldt State University ecologist who has received grants from the National Geographic Society to study the giants in Sequoia National Park. The trees’ massive size and canopy also help cut down on undergrowth around them, which reduces fuel for fires."

California "Rocky Fire" Threatens Thousands of Homes (VIDEO)

CalFire firefighters walk along Highway 20 as the Rocky Fire burns near Clearlake, Calif. The fire has charred more than 27,000 acres and is currently only 5% contained.  Josh Edelson, AFP/Getty Images

Unprecedented wildfire conditions are making the "Rocky Fire" blaze a difficult one to suppress. 

Many homeowners have been evacuated but others are deciding to stay…here's an important message from a homeowner in Clearlake with "Ready, Set, Go!" language entwined:

"For people who think they are going to stay and defend their property to the end, well, I got news for them: you won't be able to breathe by the time the fire reaches you so there's no point in staying." - Rick Sanders, homeowner.

From the Source:

A massive, fast-moving wildfire has destroyed at least 24 homes and threatens another 6,300 in a drought-stricken area about 100 miles north of San Francisco.

"The grass, the brush, the trees, they are tinder-dry," said CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant. More than 12,000 people had been evacuated from the area around Clearlake, Calif., located about 100 miles north of San Francisco and 100 miles northwest of Sacramento.

Homeowners are doing what they can to prepare but fear they are "one gust of wind away from devastation."

"We are seeing burning conditions that are almost unprecedented." - Paul Lowenthal, Santa Rosa firefighter.

Alaska Fire Crews Battling 2 Large Tundra Wildfires

" Smoke rises from the Bogus Creek Fire, one of two fires burning in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska. Fire managers said Monday that weekend rain helped tamp down the fires which, together, total about 63 square miles. (Matt Snyder/Alaska Division of Forestry via AP)"

"Smoke rises from the Bogus Creek Fire, one of two fires burning in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska. Fire managers said Monday that weekend rain helped tamp down the fires which, together, total about 63 square miles. (Matt Snyder/Alaska Division of Forestry via AP)"

Wildfires in the tundra in Alaska may become more of a frequent thing over the next century due to changing climate conditions.

From the Source:

"Alaska gets fewer fires in tundra than in forests, and tundra fires tend to be smaller, but they are not unheard of, according to Fish and Wildlife Service fire ecologist Lisa Saperstein.

Tundra fires are more common in southwest Alaska, but rare in the far north, she said. In 2007, a lightning-caused fire burned 400 square miles in the Brooks Range in the North Slope in an area where lightning is an anomaly.

The current fires are burning about 400 miles south of where the 2007 fire took place. Both fires are located in a biologically dynamic area where waterfowl nest, Saperstein said."

"According to a 2013 report by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, climate change could be a factor in a growing number of fires in tundra ecosystems over the next century."

 

Devastating Wildfires Pose Growing Threat to Hawaii's Lush Forest and Water Resources

Excellent, well-rounded article about the mauka to makai connectivity in regards to wildfires. Our wildfire issues are making national headlines!

From the Source:

"In addition to chipping away at the last of Hawaii's native forests, wildfires also threaten the state's limited freshwater resources. According to Elizabeth Pickett of the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, fires can make the soil hydrophobic, meaning less water infiltrates the soil and contributes to the state's precious groundwater resources.

Wildfires are also destructive to the state's treasured coral reefs.

The most recent National Climate Assessment reports that Hawaii's coral reefs are already struggling to survive due to bleaching events and ocean acidification."

 

Sign-up for a free-trial of ClimateWire to read the full article (it's worth it!):

http://www.eenews.net/login?r=%2Fclimatewire%2Fstories%2F1060016599%2Fsearch%3Fkeyword%3Dhawaii

"A forest fire creeps down to the sea from the West Maui Mountains. Photo courtesy of Peter Liu."

"A forest fire creeps down to the sea from the West Maui Mountains.
Photo courtesy of Peter Liu."

Family's Spirit Still Strong After Fire

Recovering from a loss of one's home after a fire or any other natural disaster may be one of the most difficult things to come to terms with and overcome.

Even after the lava flow took their home of seven years, this inspiring family's focus towards the future and gratefulness for the strength and support of their ʻohana is a great reminder of what's important this holiday season.

From the Source: 

"A family whose life turned upside down when lava from Kilauea Volcano set fire to their home of seven years said despite the recent challenges, they'll be counting their blessings this Thanksgiving.

'We're gathering with friends and family and having a potluck, and we will be so thankful for the family here, our cousins and everybody in Kala­pana helping us out,' said Margaret Byrd, whose family was renting the home on Apaa Street that burned down from the lava flow on Nov. 10. 'Be thankful for another day.'"

Above: Credit - USA Today

Above: Credit - USA Today

VIDEO: Runaway Brush Fire Near Lava Flow Contained

From the Source: 

"Civil Defense message issued at 5:30 p.m. on Monday evening, with video of a fire chopper picking up water at the end of Kauakahi Place between Ainaloa and Pahoa for a drop on a runaway brushfire." 

Uploaded by Big Island Video News on 2014-10-07.

Above: "Photo of lava flow and brushfire taken Oct. 6 by Ena Media Hawaii / Paradise Helicopter. Residents of Ainaloa, Orchidland, Kea’au, even all the way up to Hilo, could smell the smoke, and in some cases, could feel the ash, for much of the day." Credit - Paradise Helicopters

Above: "Photo of lava flow and brushfire taken Oct. 6 by Ena Media Hawaii / Paradise Helicopter. Residents of Ainaloa, Orchidland, Kea’au, even all the way up to Hilo, could smell the smoke, and in some cases, could feel the ash, for much of the day." Credit - Paradise Helicopters

66-Million-Year-Old Wildfire Reveals the Climate During the Last Days of the Dinosaurs

From the Source: 

"Archaeologists are learning a bit more about forest fires that occurred 66 million years ago during the time of the dinosaurs. They've discovered the first fossil-record evidence of forest fire ecology in Canada, revealing a bit more about the ancient climate of our planet.


In this case, the researchers managed to discover what is essentially a snapshot of the ecology on Earth at a time when the dinosaurs were on the verge of their mass extinction. The fossil record also reveals a bit more about how forests recovered after a fire.

'Excavating plant fossils preserved in rocks deposited during the last days of the dinosaurs, we found some preserved with abundant fossilized charcoal and others without it,' said Hans Larsson, one of the researchers, in a news release. 'From this, we were able to reconstruct what the Cretaceous forests looked like with and without fire disturbance.'"

"In fact, the plant fossils allowed the researchers to estimate, for the first time, climate conditions for the closing period of the dinosaurs in southwestern Canada. This shows exactly what the ecology was like right before the dinosaurs went extinct." 

Above: "Researchers have discovered the first fossil-record evidence of forest fire ecology in Canada, revealing a bit more about the ancient climate of our planet.This image shows the Las Conchas wildfire in the New Mexico region." Credit: Jayson Coil

Above: "Researchers have discovered the first fossil-record evidence of forest fire ecology in Canada, revealing a bit more about the ancient climate of our planet.This image shows the Las Conchas wildfire in the New Mexico region." Credit: Jayson Coil

Fire Regime: Native Plants Help Fire-Proof Vulnerable Park Ecosystems

From the Source:

“National Park visitors are often familiar with fire’s beneficial role in maintaining ecosystem health. Many national parks routinely burn vegetation and allow some lightning fires to burn in remote areas—if they benefit the resources. Unfortunately, wildfires at Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, where native biodiversity is shrinking, have become a threat to native ecosystems. Invasion and colonization of alien tropical and sub-tropical grasses, coinciding with the ongoing eruptions of Kilauea Volcano, have caused fire frequency rates to triple since historic levels and average fire size to increase 60-fold.”

Lava, Fire, and the Forest

From the Source:

“Wildfires have a dramatic effect on Hawaiian landscapes (D’Antonio et al. 2000). Historically, wildfires were believed to be relatively small and infrequent (more than 700 years apart) in Hawaiian forests despite the presence of natural ignition sources such as lightning and lava flows (LaRosa et al. 2010). In 2002 and 2003, lava-ignited wildfires occurred in the East Rift forests of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, and were presumably intensified by drought and nonnative plant species that alter fuel loads and fire behavior.”

"Photo on left: Unburned - Middle photo: Burned in 2003, photo taken in 2010 - Photo on right: Burned again in 2011"   Photo credit - The National Park Service 

"Photo on left: Unburned - Middle photo: Burned in 2003, photo taken in 2010 - Photo on right: Burned again in 2011"
Photo credit - The National Park Service 

Lava Field Fire Crews Struggle to Protect Forest

From the Source:

“Forty mainland firefighters are cutting a second line of defense in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park against fires started by lava flows from Kilauea volcano, the park announced.
The effort is a continuation of work under way since November that has restricted fires to the immediate vicinity of lava flows, said park spokeswoman Mardie Lane. The result has been the protection of a lowland rain forest characterized primarily by lama trees, a wood considered sacred in Hawaiian culture, she said.”

Above:  "A firefighter in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park watches as lava burns a new path through a lama tree forest this week. Newly built firebreaks and the relative resistance of this kind of forest to flames have prevented a conflagration." Photo from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Above: 
"A firefighter in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park watches as lava burns a new path through a lama tree forest this week. Newly built firebreaks and the relative resistance of this kind of forest to flames have prevented a conflagration."
Photo from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park