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Officials warn of Hawaii wildfire risks with extended drought

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                                A wildfire at Leilani on Hawaii island in August.


    A wildfire at Leilani on Hawaii island in August.

The Hawaiian isles are in for a longer than usual dry season this year, officials warned, increasing wildfire risks as summer gets underway.

Drought conditions are expected to kick in later this summer and last longer than usual, extending the high fire risk, according to National Weather Service forecaster Derek Wroe.

“While everything is green and lush right now, we are expecting below-average rainfall as we enter the dry season in Hawaii,” said Wroe in a news release. “Our long-range modeling shows that even our normally wet winter will be abnormally dry.”

Due to El Nino conditions, he said the dry season is expected to last into the fall, when wet season begins, while below-normal rainfall is expected this winter.

The more abundant the green vegetation is throughout the isles, the more potential fuel there may be for wildfires once it dries out.

Officials from various agencies urged the public to be “firewise” during a press conference Wednesday in Hilo to kick off the annual “Wildfire & Drought Lookout!” campaign.

Last year, the Hawaii Department of Land and National Resources said, wildland fires burned more than 19,000 acres in two large fires.

Much of Hawaii’s landscape is dominated by invasive, fire-adapted grasses such as fountain grass, according to Mike Walker, State Protection Forester for the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife, which helped fuel most large wildfires on Hawaii island.

“We just want to encourage the public to be firewise and firesafe,” said Walker. “Maintain vegetation around your homes, be mindful of where you pull over, idle, or park over dry grasses, and be especially careful when welding or doing other hot work this summer — please refrain from doing it in high wind conditions.”

Elizabeth Picket of the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, said wildfires are caused by both human ignitions and fuels, but that both can be reduced and managed.

“We think it’s important for everyone in Hawaii to know that Hawaii is among the most fire-prone states in the United States,” she said, “and that there’s a role that each of us play toward wildlife preparedness and safety.”

Hawaii homeowners in firewise communities such as Waimea are eligible for a free wildlife hazard assessment by trained community members who will walk through a property to determine where risks are, with suggestions for minimizing them.

More information is available at

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