Government and non-government organizations from across the state today, announced a collaborative effort to raise awareness about the threat of wildfire and drought to Hawaii’s natural resources and to private and public property. Wildfire & Drought Look Out!, is a continuing campaign to keep people across the state informed of current fire and drought conditions, provide tips on protecting life and property from wildfire, and to provide information and education on how to deal with prolonged drought.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) is the lead agency charged with wildfire prevention and suppression on public lands across the state. DLNR Chair Suzanne Case said, “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. While fires here in Hawaii burn smaller acreages than in much larger western states, the percentage of forest land we lose each year to wildfire, based on Hawaii’s actual land mass, is equal to states like California.”
This year already 10,865 acres have burned, over twice the number of acres burned during all of 2015. A recent wildfire on Oahu’s leeward coast, at Nanakuli, destroyed or damaged thousands of acres, including some native forest. Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves commented, “During this fire, flames crept precariously close to homes. The work of county and state fire fighters prevented property loss, and the precautions taken by many homeowners to create defensible space between their houses and surrounding areas prevented serious property loss. This is exactly the type of activity we hope to encourage during the “Wildfire & Drought Look Out!” campaign.
The campaign has two components. The Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO) is one of the primary partners in the Wildfire & Drought Look Out! project and HWMO Executive Director Elizabeth Pickett explained, “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. 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. Pickett added, “We hope media outlets across the state will find this information valuable and topical and join all of us in spreading prevention and preparedness messages widely.”
There was a time when wildfire season in Hawaii typically started in late spring or early summer and lasted until late fall. “Now with prolonged drought across large regions of the Hawaiian Islands and long-range predictions that show no apparent relief soon, the timing of the Wildfire & Drought Look Out! campaign couldn’t be better,” said Derek Wroe, a forecaster with NOAA’s National Weather Service office in Honolulu, another of the project partners.