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Organizations Kick Off ‘Wildfire & Drought Lookout!’ Campaign

May 13, 2016, 5:15 PM HST (Updated May 13, 2016, 5:15 PM)
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2012 file HFD photo.

2012 file HFD photo.

A collaborative effort to raise awareness about the threat of wildfires and drought in Hawai’i began on Friday through a network of government and non-government organizations.

“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 is the lead agency in charge of wildfire prevention and suppression on public lands.

“We hope this campaign, which has both a public and a media component, will educate and inform everyone living in and visiting Hawai’i about the year-round threat of wildfires,” said DLNR Chair Suzanne Case. “While fires here in Hawai’i 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.”

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So far in 2016, 10,865 acres have burned. The number is over twice the number of acres burned during all of 2015.

A recent wildfire on Oahu’s leeward coast, in Nanakuli, destroyed or damaged thousands of acres, including some native forest.

“During this [Nanakuli] fire, flames crept precariously close to homes,” said Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves. “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.”

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The campaign has two components, with the Hawai’i Wildfire Management Organization acting as one of the primary partners in the “Wildfire & Drought Look Out!” project.

“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,” said HWMO Executive Director Elizabeth Pickett. “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.

“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,” Pickett said.

There was previously a time when wildfire season in Hawai’i 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.

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