Fire agencies say its time to launch Wildfire and Drought LOOKOUT! campaign

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Mililani Mauka Fire-Nov. 2, 2023. PC: State of Hawai‘i DLNR

Representatives of fire-related entities from state, national and local levels gathered at Fire Station 14 in Wailea to launch the state’s 8th annual Wildfire and Drought LOOKOUT! campaign on Tuesday.

Amid predictions of worsening drought conditions across the state this summer and fall, the campaign states that wildfires in Hawai‘i can be prevented and lessened through human action.

“Wildfires in Hawai‘i are different from other natural hazard events in that they can largely be prevented,” said Maui Fire Department Assistant Chief Jeff Giesea. “Our fire agencies, including the fire department are ready for the season, but firefighting should be considered the last line of defense.”

According to nonprofit Hawaiʻi Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO), more than 98% of wildfires in Hawai‘i are caused by humans.

“We need everyone to take personal action ahead of time to reduce risks,” said Giesea. “To protect our homes and communities, we need to first prevent accidental ignitions.”


Conceived by the DLNR and the HWMO, Wildfire & Drought LOOKOUT! is a collaborative effort which includes all state and county firefighting agencies and this year members of the Hawai‘i Drought Council.

The campaign has the following recommendations to prevent wildfires:

  • Clear vegetation 10 feet around campfires and BBQs, keep a shovel and water nearby, and put them out COLD before walking away.
  • Be sure machinery (chainsaws, weed trimmers) and recreational vehicles with operating spark arrestors are maintained regularly.
  • Heat from vehicle exhaust systems can ignite dry grass — park cars on paved areas or where vegetation is trimmed and cleared.
  • Fireworks are a common cause of brushfires in dry, grassy areas — attend and enjoy public fireworks displays to maximize safety and fire protection.

To view the full list of recommendations, including “14 Easy WIldfire Preparedness Action Ideas,” visit the HWMO website at The website includes information on how to plan ahead, harden your home and lighten your landscaping.

Drought conditions less than last year, high predictions

Maui County is currently less dry than last year at the same time. This week one year ago, drought had impacted 52% of the islands, while just 35% of the County is today considered abnormally dry or worse, according to the US Drought Monitor.

Though much of the state experienced above normal rainfall in April and May, parts of Maui and Hawai‘i Island have remained in extreme drought, per the National Weather Service.


Specifically, “the leeward slopes of Haleakalā on Maui, and the Humuʻula Saddle region of the Big Island have not been able to recover from extreme drought” due to lack of rainfall, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

National Weather Service forecaster Derek Wroe spoke about weather forecasts and predictions for Maui County on Tuesday, June 4. PC: State of Hawai‘i DLNR

“As we move over the next few months and in the summertime, drier conditions are predicted across the entire state. Because of that, the drought in places on Maui and the Big Island will likely worsen, and the drought will expand to all Hawaiian islands,” said Derek Wroe, forecaster at National Weather Service, on Tuesday.

Most drought effects will be seen in the leeward areas via brown, dried-out vegetation. However, places with ample rainfall over the last month will have additional fire fuels later in the season, said state protection forester Michael Walker of the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW).

“While that green up on Molokaʻi, Maui, Oʻahu and Hawai‘i will prolong the beginning of the dry season, it’ll also add additional fuel to the landscape once those areas dry out, which could lead to potentially higher fire danger later in the summer,” said Walker.

Water supply pinched on Maui

South Maui and Upcountry are beginning to experience the impacts of decreased rainfall in their water reserves, according to the Maui Department of Water Supply (DWS).


“We are starting to see some moderate drops in South Maui and Upcountry, our reservoir levels have dropped slightly,” said DWS Deputy Director James “Kimo” Landgraf during Tuesday’s gathering.

West Maui has remained in a Stage 1 (or higher) water shortage since June 30, 2022, and Upcountry has been on advisory since Nov. 8, 2023, when anticipated water demand was projected to exceed available water supply by 16% to 30%.

“The systems are extra vulnerable in West Maui and Upcountry, because we rely on the surface water to produce potable water,” said Landgraf.

N5 Sensors “not in place” but new sensors on the way

The 20 N5 Sensors for wildfires—provided in March by the US Fire Administration and US Department of Homeland Security and intended for Lahaina and Kīhei—are not ready to be used, Jeff Giesea of Maui Fire Department, said on Tuesday.

“The program is not complete. We don’t have all of the sensors in place and reporting, yet,” said Giesea. “We’re still in a phase of basically getting familiar with the sensors, verifying what they can do, what we hope they can do. It’s so far so good with that, so stay tuned for more on that program.”

Maui County should, however, expect 40 remote weather stations rolling out this summer.

“The [DLNR] has funded the purchase of additional 40 remote automated weather stations which are used in fire-weather forecasting,” said Walker with DOFAW. “We’re going to be rolling those stations out across the state this summer—starting on Maui first.”

JD Pells
JD is a news reporter for Maui Now. He has contributed stories to TCU 360, Fort Worth Report and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. JD interned at Maui Now in 2021. He graduated from the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at Texas Christian University, with a bachelor's in journalism and business in 2022, before coming back home to Maui with the purpose of serving his community. He can be reached at
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