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Kona Community wildfire protection plan under way.

August 23rd 2011

County of Hawaii in Hawaii Island: In the wake of last month's forest fire which devastated over 1800 acres of land in Kealakekua, the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO) is preparing a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) for South Kona.
( Kona Coffee News Service) The CWPP process involves gathering community input in order to develop locally supported solutions to mitigate wildfires and the devastation they cause.

Kona was recently reminded that wildfire is a significant threat. It took weeks for firefighters to extinguish the wildfire which broke out at Kealakekua Ranch on December 27, 2009. Fueled by mature ohia and koa trees, hard woods which can burn for 1,000 hours, the Kealakekua fire was extremely challenging to put out. The rugged terrain at the 4,400-foot elevation where the fire broke out, along with lack of access to water, abundant fuel sources, dry conditions, warm weather that caused smoldering undergrowth to reignite, smoke trapped by Kona's temperature inversion layer all combined to create difficult and hazardous conditions for the dozens of firefighters who worked 24-hour shifts to battle the blaze and protect the community.

"There's a misconception that we should be able to just come in, throw some water on it, and it will be out, but it's not that easy,"; said Miles Nakahara, co-founder and President of Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization. Nakahara assisted the Hawaii County Fire Department with fighting the Kealakekua fire. "The fire goes underground with the root system and an organic layer of soil holds the fire," Nakahara said. He added, "We are in the middle of a severe drought and the conditions are prime for devastating wildfires. Hawaii Wildfire urges the public to take extra precautions to prevent wildfire, including avoiding driving off road in dry areas, and to report any suspicious activities that may be linked to arson."

To protect the community from the threat of future fires, HWMO is collaborating with the Hawaii County Fire Department, the Hawaii County Civil Defense Department, and the State Department of Land and Natural Resources to draft a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. The CWPP will be a collaborative plan to address wildfire threats in the South Kona community.

Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization is a non-profit which was founded in 2002 by a diverse group of stakeholders, who came together to develop simple, effective strategies to mitigate wildfire threats in Hawaii. HWMO is the only organization of its kind in the state and is comprised of representatives from DLNR, the County Fire Department, the National Park Service, the U.S. Army, and includes landowners, scientists, and natural resource managers.

The proactive fire mitigation strategies developed by HWMO have already helped to save lives and homes. In 2005 the Waikoloa Firewise Committee cleared a fuel break around the mauka edge of the Village, just three weeks before a 15,000-acre wildfire threatened that community. The Waikoloa fire was one of the largest wildfire in state history. According to fire officials, the Firewise fuelbreak effectively prevented the 2005 fire from reaching homes. In 2007 a fuelbreak funded by HWMO was credited with saving homes at Wailea Bay.

"Humans are the primary cause of fires in Hawaii County," explains Michael Tomich, Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization Board Member and County firefighter. "Wildfires have already destroyed 65% of Hawaii's dryland forests, the most endangered dryland forest on the planet," says Tomich.

Wildfires cause soil erosion, degrade rangeland quality, and increase soil runoff, negatively impacting ocean and reef health. In order to help mitigate wildfires, HWMO supports well managed grazing and strategic use of weedwhipping and herbicides to control invasive grasses, assists with the installation of dip tanks for helicopters to quickly suppress fires, conducts hazard assessments, develops management plans, and undertakes research and development to determine best practices for local conditions. HWMO is also pioneering the use of living fuelbreaks in Hawaii by using plants, preferably natives, that do not carry fire as easily to act as a buffer between hazardous vegetation that easily carries fire and communities and natural resources. HWMO's research and work are now helping to protect some of the last remaining native dryland forests in the State.

As part of its outreach program, HWMO provides wildfire education for Hawaii communities. Outreach efforts include educating residents about implementing Firewise principles at their homes. Firewise principles show home and business owners how to create defensible spaces around buildings and communities by utilizing appropriate landscaping.

HWMO encourages residents to learn more about the Firewise principles and to provide their input for the South Kona Community Wildfire Protection Plan. For more information on how to get involved, contact Gail Byrne, Executive Director of the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, at (808) 885-0900 or via email at gailbyrne@hawaii.rr.com.