Increased fire risk: Public urged to prepare for dry, gusty conditions across Hawaiʻi this week
The State Joint Information Center urges Hawai‘i residents and visitors to take steps and exercise care to reduce the risks of fires as dry and gusty conditions move across the state this week.
The state and its partners are coordinating additional firefighting resources across the area to meet the increased risk, but the public also plays a vital part in reducing harm.
“This is a kākou situation, where we all have to do our part to protect our communities,” said James Barros, Administrator of Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency.
The conditions are not expected to be as hazardous as the hurricane-accelerated winds that accompanied the Aug. 7 and 8, 2023 wildfires on Hawai‘i island and Maui, when gusts exceeded 60 mph. However, the National Weather Service has issued a Fire Weather Watch for leeward areas of all Hawaiian islands from midday Wednesday through Thursday afternoon.
This indicates that a combination of dry and warm conditions, low relative humidity, and winds of more than 20 mph could create the risk of fire ignitions and greater difficulty in controlling the spread of fires. A Fire Weather Watch is less severe than a Red Flag Warning, which indicates those conditions are occurring or are expected to occur in the next 48 hours.
The NWS Fire Weather Watch noted that trade winds of 15 to 30 mph are expected from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday afternoon, gusting at up to 45 mph. Relative humidity could fall to 35 to 45% by Thursday, creating an increased risk of rapid fire spread.
To reduce the risk of wildfires during this period of heightened risk, we recommend that residents:
- Use extreme caution with flame or heat sources outdoors. Do not burn items outdoors and be careful when using power tools or garden equipment that could strike sparks from stones. Do not allow chains, or other items that could produce sparks, to drag from vehicles.
- Never throw cigarette butts or other burning items from a vehicle or into vegetation.
- Never park on dry grass or vegetation; vehicle exhaust systems quickly become hot enough to start a blaze.
- Clear dry vegetation and other flammable items away from around structures. The idea is to create at least five feet of “fire-free defensible space” around them to make it less likely that embers will spread a fire.
- Make sure your roof and gutters are free of dead leaves and other fuel that could give fire an easy place to start.
- Trim tall vegetation around trees that could act as a “ladder” and allow flames to climb into the tree canopy and spread rapidly. Prune trees and shrubs near structures and to create separation within the tree canopy.
For more information on preventing and preparing for wildfires, see this guide from the Hawai‘i Wildfire Management Organization or visit hawaiiwildfire.org.
Additional steps the public can take to prepare:
- Make a plan for how to safely leave your home or workplace in case of an emergency, and how to reunite after the imminent threat has passed. Discuss it with the members of your ‘ohana.
- Gather important documents and items such as birth certificates, ATM card, driver’s license, insurance information, and others you might need if you have to leave in a hurry.
- Prepare a “go kit” with clothing, food, water, a flashlight, battery-powered radio and other items that would be needed if you must evacuate. If ordered to leave for safety, grab the documents and go kit and leave quickly.
- Sign up for emergency alerts in your county. Links to sign up can be found here: https://dod.hawaii.gov/hiema/get-ready/
- A fast-moving fire may make it impossible to use certain alert systems, so have more than one way to receive information. Alerts may come via TV/radio, wireless emergency alerts on mobile devices, county alert systems of via the all-hazard siren system, which indicates you should seek more information about an imminent hazard.