County Council takes up 2 measures supporting project to mitigate wildfire risk in North Hawai‘i

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The U.S. Drought Monitor on Wednesday showed that 33.4% of the Big Island is experiencing moderate or severe drought, with much of North Hawai‘i in severe drought. Another 15.4% of the island is abnormally dry.

Drought increases the risk of wildfire, an issue the north part of the island is all too familiar with, especially after the massive Māna Road Fire in the summer of 2021. Several other blazes have sparked in the region since, including in August 2023, the same day a deadly wildfire destroyed Lahaina, Maui.

The Hawai‘i County Council on Wednesday during a regular session meeting took up two measures in support of mitigating the risk of wildfires in North Hawai‘i, specifically in and around communities that were affected by the Māna Road Fire.

The 2021 Māna Road Fire along Old Saddle Road in North Hawai‘i on the Big Island burned more than 42,000 acres of state and private land. (File photo courtesy of the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources)

Council members voted 9-0 to adopt Resolution 471. Introduced by Puna Councilman Matt Kāneali‘i-Kleinfelder by request, the resolution authorizes Hawai‘i County Mayor Mitch Roth’s office to enter into an agreement with the Hawai’i Emergency Management Agency to receive $33,200 in post-fire assistance funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

The grant funds will be used by the Hawai‘i Fire Department for the first phase of a project aimed at reducing wildfire fuels such as dry vegetation and invasive species and create defensible space for several communities and large landowners.

The council also voted 9-0 to approve the first reading of Bill 146, a companion measure to Resolution 471 introduced by Kāneali‘i-Kleinfelder by request, to appropriate the grant funds.


The total cost for the project’s first phase is $43,575, with a county match of $10,375 coming from in-kind donations. The Fire Department also received $2,075 in other federal funds for management costs.

The Māna Road Fire in late July and early August in 2021 burned along Old Saddle Road on the slopes of Mauna Kea. It destroyed more than 42,000 acres of state and private land above Waimea, including grassland largely on Parker Ranch property.

The blaze forced evacuation orders for residents of the Hawaiian homestead Pu‘ukapu Farm Lots, Waikōloa Village and Waiki‘i Ranch.

Two homes were destroyed by the massive fire.

It was the Big Island’s largest wildfire and one of the biggest in the state’s recorded history.


Phase one of the wildfire hazard mitigation project, expected to take about 6 months, will focus on developing plans for best management practices standards and creating an inventory of exact locations for hazardous fuels removal and defensible space activities.

Hawai‘i Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Darwin Okinaka told council members during an April 16 meeting of their Finance Committee that the first phase will start this year, as soon as the county receives the funds.

The communities and properties to be included in the project are already set in stone.

“We had to identify all of the locations, all of the work that will be done utilizing these funds,” Okinaka told the council during the April 16 Finance Committee meeting. “That’s the only way we could get the approval for the grant.”

Smoke billows into the air and blots out the daylight during the Māna Road Fire in 2021 in North Hawai‘i on the slopes of Mauna Kea. (File photo)

Communities and large landowners involved will include Parker Ranch, Pu‘ukapu Farm Lots, Waiki‘i Ranch, Waikōloa Village and Kamuela View Estates, among others. It will also include some properties in the Paʻauilo area that were affected by wildfires just before the Māna Road blaze.


The department has been working on the grant with HI-EMA and FEMA for the past nearly three years since the Māna Road Fire.

It also partnered with the Hawai‘i Wildfire Management Organization to plan the project and reach out to communities and landowners to determine how it can work with and support them to reduce fuels and protect homes and properties from future wildfires.

The first phase encompasses just the project’s administrative work, with the actual fuel reduction and defensible space activities planned in phase two. That will likely begin next year.

Okinaka said the total amount of the post-fire assistance grant is more than $500,000. Phase two will be paid for with remaining grant funds and matching county funding, which is usually 25%.

Property owners in the areas where fuel reduction and defensible space activities are planned or contractors will do the work, with funding sourced through the Fire Department.

Public outreach will also be conducted to keep communities informed. The Fire Department is coordinating with regulatory authorities, permitting officials and grant officials to complete the project.

The second reading of Bill 146 will be considered at the council’s next regular session meeting.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at
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