Fire takes no holiday, and the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization is organizing a day of fire preparedness at the Waikoloa Dryland Wildfire Safety Park in Waikoloa Village on Saturday, May 3, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Melia Street in Waikoloa. Activities include a firefighter meet and greet, student-led garden tours, a keiki activity station, and a visit from Smokey the Bear. Wildfire preparedness workshops and guest speakers will also be on hand to teach community members how they can help prevent wildfires and protect their homes.
“It’s the first ever National Wildfire Preparedness Day,” said Pablo Beimler, education and outreach coordinator for Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization. “The idea is to have communities from all over the nation participate in wildfire awareness and hold these events. This is a great way to show that Hawaii has wildfire issues and that communities are taking charge and getting involved.”
“Almost all of the fires in the state of Hawaii are from humans,” said Elizabeth Pickett, executive director of HWMO. “Whether it’s intentional or accidental they’re all human caused. Preventing ignition is key. Fire goes where there’s fuel, and we consider fuel to be vegetation, leaf litter, tree debris, branches and anything that’s combustible. It’s important to maintain your landscaping. You want your house 10 feet clear of debris, dried grass, or brush. You want your grass short. You also want to harden your home. By that we mean converting as much as you can around your home to non-combustible building materials. For example replacing wood fences with stone, or replacing wooden shingles with metal roofing.”
Waikoloa is the most fire prone subdivision, not just on Hawaii Island, but in the entire state.
“Waikoloa is vulnerable to large-scale, destructive wildfires like the one in 2005 that could have wiped out the entire village,” said Beimler. “The idea is to really ramp up our efforts in Waikoloa and let people know there are things they can do to protect their homes and prevent wildfires.”
HWMO is anxious about the upcoming fire season and hopes that educational events like National Wildfire Preparedness Day will help educate the community and subsequently prevent possible ignitions.
“With all the recent rain and all the recent vegetative growth, we are getting really nervous about the upcoming fire season,” said Pickett. “There’s predicted drought conditions, and although we have a lot of rain right now, in the future it looks like the vegetation will likely dry out and it will be at high risk of wildfire. We want to get the message out early on.”
Research shows that Hawaii has a higher proportion of fire-prone acres than any of the 17 western-most states. HWMO educates the community by raising awareness through proactive planning and prevention efforts. They created the first and only fire preparedness demonstration garden in Hawaii, The Waikoloa Dryland Wildfire Safety Park. The garden teaches community members how to reduce the impact of wildfires through defensible space, firewise landscaping and fire resistant building materials. This garden is primarily made up of low-maintenance, native Hawaiian species that are resistant to drought, wind, and heat.
“A fire can only go where things can burn,” said Pickett. “The idea is to interrupt that process and make the fire go somewhere else - not straight toward your house. You can do that by managing your vegetation, your grass and your leaf litter. It’s important to do all that ahead of time so the fire can’t damage your home.”
The best defense against wildfire is preparation and prevention. Saturday’s event hopes to provide lessons that will assist the community with protecting their property.
HWMO is working with the following organizations to put on this event: Hawaii Fire Department, Waikoloa Community Association, Waikoloa Community Emergency Response Team, Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative, Waikoloa Outdoor Circle, and Malama Kai Foundation.