Fire seasons worsen in Hawaii, with 25% of the island land providing fuel

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Forecasters say Hawaii can expect more significant brushfires across the islands in the years to come.

The latest blaze happened on the Big Island over the weekend. While it’s almost fully contained, it did burn about 2,000 acres near the Pohakuloa training area.

Flames broke out on Saturday and multiple agencies are working to put it out.

Hawaii enjoyed a plentiful wet season this year, but the growth in tropical grasses and shrubs like haole koa provide more fuel when they dry out in the summer.

“My research has found that when the green-up events these higher rainfall events can contribute more to fire risk down the road than real-time drought conditions,” UH Manoa Extension Specialist in Ecosystems and Fire Clay Trauernicht said.

Conditions have been dry in much of the islands, and experts say it will only get worse from here due to climate change.

“Once things dry out in the islands it’s very hard to recover,” Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Luke Meyers said. “What we’re seeing we’re out of wet season we’re into hurricane season which tends to be dry.”

Another contribution is former agricultural lands that are abandoned and overrun with invasive species. Trauernicht says 25% of Hawaii’s landmass, or about 1,000,000 acres, are dominated by these grasses and shrubs.

“Right now the threat is highest around the communities because these are lands that were once under production and are no longer being used the way they were in the past,” Trauernicht said.

About 99% of these fires are ignited by humans, most are accidental.

Fire officials urge folks to take precautions when near anything that can easily ignite, especially in high winds. Also, keep some water near you.

Something that we often don’t think about when it comes to brush fires is where we park our cars.

“Parking vehicles is a big one catalytic converters get really hot don’t park it on the dry grass,” Honolulu Fire Department Captain Keith Ito said.

The Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization has plenty of tips for how to protect your home from falling victim to a nearby brushfire.

As fires rage on the west coast, these states have priority for federal grants, leaving Hawaii to run short. Community plans like Firewise can help keep neighborhoods resilient.

On a macro level, Trauernicht says funding for things like fuel breaks can help save the land and keep firefighters safe.

“More importantly than fuel break stopping it is the fuel breaks that allow the firefighters to come in and provide a safe environment for the firefighters to work,” he said.

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