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Volunteers to Clear Out Dry Brush on Hawaiian Home Lands in Waimea

By Tiffany DeMasters
June 10, 2021, 3:00 PM HST
* Updated June 10, 2:48 PM
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About a dozen volunteers will be landscaping on Hawaiian Home lands in Waimea this weekend in an effort to reduce the risk of wildfire.

Poliahu Alanui security gate. PC: Department of Hawaiian Home Lands

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) issued a Limited Right of Entry to the Friends of Waimea Community Emergency Response Team for Saturday, June 12, to clear 600 feet of dry vegetation that has accumulated in mounds on Poliahu Alanui. Work is scheduled to take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Area residents are asked to proceed slowly through the area for volunteer safety.

The team will be working near the security gate of Poliahu Alanui. It’s been over a year since the area was cleared of dead vegetation as COVID-19 restrictions prevented group cleanup efforts. Approximately 12 volunteers are scheduled to participate.

DHHL officials say the Friends of Waimea CERT will cut a firebreak that is 300 feet long on each side of the road, and the firebreak will be at least 20 feet deep.

Friends of Waimea CERT obtained a $700 grant in 2020 from the North Hawai‘i Firewise Program to complete this project. Firewise USA helps communities adapt to living with wildfire and encourages neighbors to work together and take action now to prevent losses. That action includes clearing out fuel for fires.

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Team leader for Waimea CERT Chessine Nugent told Big Island Now on Thursday, Firewise gives their group the focus on what to accomplish.

“By reducing fire fuel it won’t become a wildfire destroying homes and livelihoods,” Nugent explained. “We just don’t have the resources. For our own safety and welfare of the community, everyone should participate in the Firewise program.”

This project comes a week after a 1,400-acre brush fire raged near Pa‘auilo. Although one of the wettest areas on the island, Nugent said she wasn’t surprised by the blaze as there was a lot of overgrown brush.

Pa’auilo brush fire on June 2, 2021. PC: Hawai’i Fire Department
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“Anytime you can grow fuel for fire, it’s a risk,” Nugent explained.

As firefighting agencies statewide kick off the annual Wildlife & Drought LOOKOUT! awareness campaign, the Pa‘auilo fire highlights the importance for communities and individuals to be prepared for what is expected to be an especially active summer and fall fire season.

“We have a lot of brush that’s built up over the last four years, so that’s going to be a prime issue in the coming months. Based on forecasts, we are in for a particularly dry year, which is an issue for us on the Big Island, and the rest of the state as well,” said Hawai‘i County Fire Chief Kazuo Todd.

The prevalence of wildfires is intrinsically linked to current weather conditions. As of June 3, each of the Main Hawaiian Islands had vast acreages of land rated as abnormally dry by the US Drought Monitor

Statewide 68.52% of the land is considered abnormally dry, with 4% experiencing moderate drought, and a small fraction of land (.38%) on the west side of Hawai‘i Island already in severe drought conditions.

“Wherever the wind can blow a leaf, it can blow an ember and start a fire. Embers can fly up to a mile, so keep your yards clean, lean, and green right now,” stated Nani Barretto, of the Hawai‘i Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO). “The one thing we want people to know is, fires are different than other natural hazard events in that they can be prevented, and their impacts reduced, if we’re proactive.”

Like in all western states, Hawai‘i no longer has a set fire season, DLNR officials stated. It’s now year-round, but predominate from early summer to late fall, when rainfall is historically lower. This phenomenon is one reason the Hawai‘i State Legislature has pumped millions of dollars into the State’s firefighting arsenal over the past few years.

“The more proactive we are as individuals, as home and property owners, the better,” Barretto said.

Firefighting is the last line of defense.

“Our messages about fire safety are more necessary now than ever,” Todd said. “It’s important to look at what’s going on within your own neighborhood, your own community, your own property and making sure you’re not doing anything to contribute to the spread of wildfires.”

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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