Maui News

Hawaiʻi at Higher Risk of Wildfires, New Study Finds

December 26, 2018, 2:41 PM HST
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A new study from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa links climate change to a higher risk of wildfires in Hawaiʻi.

During the study, lead researcher Clay Trauernicht tracked the “footprints” of historical fires on Hawai‘i Island. His work shows how vegetation, ignition frequency, and climate increase the risk of wildfires.

The increased risk of fire, Trauernicht points out, stems from drought conditions. Trauernicht also points out that heavy rainfall in the months prior to drought contributes to wildfire because wet conditions help grow non-native grasses, which are the greatest fuel for wildfires in Hawai‘i. Wet summer weather, combined with dry winter conditions, is a characteristic of El Niño conditions. Trauernicht warns that this winter looks likely to be another El Niño.

The annual risk of wildfire could more than triple for parts of Hawaiʻi island due to changes in rainfall and temperature from climate change, Trauernrichtʻs analysis shows. Most of this change would happen within the next several decades.

“Conditions for fire are likely to worsen significantly by mid-century,” said Trauernicht, who works in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. “The analysis also confirms patterns we’re already seeing in Hawai‘i. High rainfall in the 2017–2018 winter, followed by late-summer drought, contributed to nearly 30,000 acres burning across the state this August.”

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