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State Legislature working group urgently tackles wildfire

prevention in Hawaiʻi


Wildfires have been a growing problem for decades throughout Hawaiʻi due to the significant change in large-scale land use and mounting impacts of climate change. But there was a lack of urgency by state and local government to take comprehensive action until Aug. 8, the day eight fires — including the catastrophic Lahaina blaze — burned simultaneously on Maui and the Big Island.


In addition to threatening people’s lives and property, wildfires destroy native watersheds and change soil, threatening native species and their habitats. It also threatens the state’s drinking water sources.


 Since 2006, there is an average of nearly 1,000 fires a year in the Hawaiian Islands, burning an average of 20,000 acres statewide. In some years, 45,000 acres have burned. And, all counties have been experiencing large fires of 1,000 plus acres multiple times each year.


“We are at a critical decision point. Bold action is required to address the key drivers of catastrophic fires, significantly increasing the pace and scale of land management, and improving the resilience of our most vulnerable communities.”

reducing ignitions, reducing fuel loads, community engagement, protecting communities, wildfire suppression, post-fire response and wildfire research.

Some key findings of the draft report:

  • People cause 99% of wildfires.

  • 26% (about 1 million acres) of Hawaiʻi’s total land area has been invaded by non-native, fire-prone grasses and shrubs. And this only gets worse with every fire that burns into native forest, allowing for more non-native species to flourish.

  • Drought and climate change are exacerbating the risk of wildfires.

  • Declines in active agriculture land use have reduced maintenance and access to roads, water sources, equipment and assistance, which previously supported firefighting.

  • Many neighborhoods in Hawaiʻi have fire hazard issues that threaten life, including: a single road to evacuate and respond; pipe and fire suppression systems that are outdated or overburdened; narrow streets; and few firetruck turnaround options.

  • Hawaiʻi has not adopted building standards that would better protect structures against wildfires, including requiring the use of fire-resistant materials and construction techniques or mandating that space around certain structures are clear of flammable vegetation. There are 21 states that have adopted specific standards for fire mitigation, according to the International Code Council.

  • Most of Hawaiʻi’s communities do not yet have well-developed and comprehensive emergency preparedness and disaster response plans.

  • Hawaiʻi is the only state without a State Fire Marshal.

  • There are some county fire companies within the state operating with staffing levels below the national standard.                                                        ʻi/

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