Severe drought conditions causing wildfires on Big Island and Maui

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There are drought conditions in North Kohala, making it susceptible to wildfires. (Photo: Department of Land and Natural Resources)

Parts of the State of Hawaiʻi, including portions of the Big Island, are beginning to suffer severe drought conditions, with wildfires already starting to occur as a result of the dry land.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor weekly reporting, this is the first time the severe drought designation has been noted in Hawai‘i this summer.

Just a week ago, the southern tip of Hawai‘i Island was not seeing drought conditions. But now, it is considered abnormally dry, and a few days ago firefighters fought a 42-acre brush fire there.


The North Kohala district continues to have moderate drought conditions and all east Hawai‘i Island is termed as abnormally dry.

The Saddle Road area, the site of the 17,000-acre Leilani fire last year, appears to be green and lush now. But Steve Bergfeld, the Hawaiʻi Island branch manager for the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife, said after a recent aerial survey: “Even after rain, within a couple of days and the wind kicks in, the fuel dries out quickly. Though it looks green, invasive grasses can still carry fire.”

Non-native grasses like fountain grass cover 25% of Hawai‘i’s land mass.


Wildfires are a threat year-round in Hawai‘i due to climate-change fueled conditions. State firefighting agencies and county fire departments are urging people to be cautious and avoid igniting wildfires. Virtually all wildfires in Hawai‘i are started by people, mostly by accident. The chief causes are:

  • fireworks
  • heat from vehicle exhaust that can ignite dry grass
  • sparks from machinery like weed whackers, chain saws, grinders, welding equipment and all-terrain vehicles
  • unattended campfires or barbecues

There are also drought conditions on other Hawaiian islands.

On O‘ahu, the monitor shows abnormally dry conditions stretching along the southern and western coastlines from Hawai‘i Kai to Ka‘ena Point. Kaua‘i has a thin area of abnormally dry conditions along its southernmost coast.


Severe drought conditions also are now impacting the southern and western coastal areas of Maui.

“It’s no surprise we’re seeing wildland fires ignite in areas that are seeing worsening drought conditions,” State Protection Forester Mike Walker said in a press release. “Forecasters continue to predict things will get worse before they get better, with an expectation that more severe drought conditions will plague larger areas of the state into late summer, early fall and even through next winter.”

The West Maui Mountains and Central Maui also are experiencing moderate drought conditions, while east Maui is designated as abnormally dry in the latest report released on Tuesday. Elsewhere in Maui Nui, the entire island of Kaho‘olawe is abnormally dry, as is western Lana‘i and west Moloka‘i, with a thin strip of southwestern Moloka‘i experiencing severe drought.

The Hawai‘i Wildfire Management Organization is the state’s central clearinghouse for information on wildland fires. Its website has loads of information on being fire safe and how to sign up for a free wildfire property assessment.

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