Link between wildfire and drought serves as platform for prevention campaign
The link between drought conditions and wildfire in Hawai‘i “is already in full play,” according to state officials, and conditions this summer are expected to worsen.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is helping to spread awareness as part of a collaborative campaign hosted by the Hawai‘i Wildfire Management Organization.
At a news conference on Tuesday, a meteorologist, a fire scientist, a fire manager, and a fire inspector shared current and predicted Hawai‘i drought conditions, the seasonal fire outlook, and what the public can do to prevent wildland fires.
Meteorologist Derek Wroe, of the National Weather Service Honolulu Forecast Office said:
“As people know, we are heading into the hotter and drier summer months, and projections call for rainfall to be below normal. As a result, drought will likely expand and worsen over the fire prone leeward areas. These drier than normal conditions may linger into the beginning of the normal wet season in October and November,” said Wroe.
The US Drought Monitor is showing more than a half million people are already being impacted by drought conditions.
The drought monitor, tracks conditions weekly and data released on June 2, shows areas of extreme drought on Moloka‘i, Kaho‘olawe, Maui, and Hawai‘i Island. Only Kaua‘i is currently drought free.
“As people know, we’re heading into the much dryer, hotter summer months, so there’s no reason to expect any relief from the drought. We do expect the percentage of land in the extreme to exceptional drought categories to grow,” Wroe said.
Dr. Clay Trauernicht is an Ecosystems and Fire Extension Specialist at the University of Hawai‘i Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, who studies the impacts of fires on natural systems, said:
“Most wildfires in Hawai‘i tend to be smaller in size when compared with other western states. However, most years, as a percentage of land area, Hawai‘i loses as much acreage to fire as all the large states on the West Coast and in the Western US. Fortunately, there is a lot we can do to protect our people and places from wildfire. We just all need to take preparedness action.”
Drought and wildfire conditions were evident from last week’s three-acre Kuaokalā Guarantee Fire on O‘ahu. State offiicals say, “it burned hot and fast” before wildland firefighters from the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife put it out.
DOFAW State Wildfire Manager Mike Walker said the fire likely sparked from a roadside, unattended campfire. “In this same area we’ve had four or more fire starts from unextinguished campfires. This forest and many others around the state are bone dry and getting dryer by the day,” he explained.
Forest users are reminded that ground fires are always strictly prohibited on lands managed by DOFAW, which include State Forest Reserves and Natural Area Reserves. Campfires must be in a container such as in a barbeque grill or metal drum. All embers must be extinguished when the fire is unattended.
Another linkage between drought and fire is all the water from municipal fire hydrants is potable water, according to Honolulu Fire Department Inspector Carl Otsuka. The more firefighters need, the less drinking water will be available which could lead to non-voluntary water restrictions if drought conditions worsen.