08/31/20-FIRES & STATEWIDE RED FLAG WARNING KICK OFF WILDFIRE & DROUGHT AWARENESS CAMPAIGNPosted on Aug 31, 2020 in Forestry & Wildlife, Main, Media, News Releases, slider, Wildfire
|DAVID Y. IGE
SUZANNE D. CASE
FIRES & STATEWIDE RED FLAG WARNING KICK OFF WILDFIRE & DROUGHT AWARENESS CAMPAIGN
All Leeward Areas Under Warning Until 6 p.m. Today
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(Honolulu) – The National Weather Service’s (NWS) issuance of a Red Flag Warning for all leeward areas of the Hawaiian Islands means critical wildfire conditions are either occurring now or will shortly. The warning says, “Provided the lack of any significant rainfall through the summer months, fuels have become very dry across portions of the state. These dry conditions combined with breezy trades and relative humidity’s dipping below 45 percent through the afternoon hours will support extreme fire behavior today.” A wildfire on Maui’s western side, over the weekend, has already consumed 1,500 acres.
The fall months of September and October are typically the most prone to wildfire starts in Hawai‘i. “However, there are no longer typical fire seasons in the islands, as in recent years we’ve seen wildfires break out in every month of the year,” said Michael Walker, State Protection Forester for the Hawai‘i Dept. of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Forestry and Wildlife. Experts believe this is largely a result of global climate change.
This year, heading into the fall and adding prolonged drought in certain locations around the state to the equation, fire managers, forecasters and firefighters are on high alert. Kevin Kodama, the Senior Service Hydrologist with the NWS Forecast Office in Honolulu commented, “Vegetation conditions have really become dry over portions of the state during August, especially in the leeward areas of Maui County where severe drought has been quite persistent. Furthermore, based on our climate guidance, it’s looking like we may have a late start to our October through April wet season and significant relief may not show up until November.”
A week ago, the U.S. Drought Monitor rated west Maui as being in “severe drought.” Other areas of Maui, Hawai‘i island and O‘ahu are experiencing abnormally dry conditions to moderate drought conditions. Kaua‘i is not experiencing drought except for a very small portion of the southwest quadrant of the island. On other islands, the only areas not experiencing some level of drought as of August 25th, include the windward side of O‘ahu and the leeward side of
Hawai‘i island. A year ago, about 41% of the state was not experiencing drought, as of now that percentage has dropped to around 32% as drought-free. The authors of the drought monitor estimate nearly 280,000 Hawai‘i residents live in currently rated drought areas. “Given the red flag warning now covering leeward areas, we can expect the percentages of area under drought conditions to increase in the next monitoring report,” said Neal Fujii, a hydrologist with the State Commission on Water Resources Management.
In more normal times, fire management partners across the state, stage a “Wildfire & Drought LOOKOUT!” campaign to increase people’s awareness of the connection between drought and wildfires. “The COVID-19 pandemic, is of course capturing everyone’s attention as it should, but we do hope people will be aware over the next few months that their actions can lead to wildfires, that can threaten homes, property, forests and lives,” said DLNR Senior Communications Manager Dan Dennison, who in collaboration with others, initiated the annual wildfire awareness campaign five years ago.
“We’ve already experienced several large fires on O‘ahu and Maui and high-risk conditions will persist, especially in leeward areas, until we get significant rainfall,” explained Dr. Clay Trauernicht, Associate Specialist in Ecosystem Fire with the University of Hawaiʻi Cooperative Extension Service.
Part of the annual Wildfire & Drought Lookout campaign is to provide common-sense tips and guidance for everyone to follow to prevent wildfires. Nani Barretto, the Co-Executive Director of the Hawai‘i Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO) added, “The difference about wildfires that people need to understand, compared to most natural hazard events, is that they are preventable. We can reduce the impacts when we are proactive. There’s lots we can do to protect ourselves, our families, our communities. Now is the time to do that, to take action and to be proactive.”
Among the actions HWMO and other fire management agencies recommend:
- Do not park on dry grass
- Do not use equipment that sparks, especially on a dry day
- Keep grass cut short and trees trimmed high
- Clean leaf piles in the yard, in rain gutters and around structures
95% of wildland fires are caused by people, albeit usually accidentally. Barretto also recommends a family emergency plan if you live in a drought or fire-prone area and said, “Be sure to include neighbors or loved ones who may not be able to escape a fire. We also encourage people to get involved in community efforts to reduce wildfire hazards.” She points to the Firewise USA program which is a national and state program that mobilizes communities to act. The National Fire Protection Association and HWMO have recognized 15 communities around the state as Firewise USA sites. Across the country 1,500 communities in 42 states have achieved recognition. For more information check the links below.
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Current National Weather Service Red Flag Warning:
More information on wildfire & Firewise USA:
Hawai‘i – www.hawaiiwildfire.org
National – https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Fire-causes-and-risks/Wildfire/Firewise-USA
U.S. Drought Monitor:
Hawai‘i conditions (updated weekly)
Senior Communications Manager
Hawai‘i Dept. of Land and Natural Resources