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Monday, February 25, 2002



Workshop addresses
Hamakua fire response

Area residents work with state
and federal officials to find hazards


By Rod Thompson
rthompson@starbulletin.com

HILO >> The Hamakua Coast north of Hilo gets about 100 inches of rain a year. Despite that, the area suffered six fires on former sugar cane land last year, said forester Mike Robinson.

Not content to wait and react to the next fires, state and federal agencies are working with Hamakua residents to prepare response plans for the future, said Robinson of the Hawaii Forestry and Communities Initiative.

Robinson was a speaker at a three-day Firewise Communities Workshop that concluded Friday in Hilo.

The event was part of a Firewise Communities program funded by Congress following major rural fires in the western United States, said workshop organizer Wayne Ching of the state Division of Forestry & Wildlife.

The impulse for bringing the program to Hawaii was long-standing displeasure among some Hamakua residents with eucalyptus plantations on former sugar lands. The claim was that eucalyptus trees pose a fire hazard.

Actually, Robinson said, three of last year's Hamakua fires were arson, set in eucalyptus groves, but the eucalyptus did not burn. What did burn was guinea grass and ironwood trees on unmanaged land, he said.

As more people build homes near or in wild lands, including in Hamakua, fire danger grows, Robinson said.

People cause 95 percent of wildfires, he said. "Cows don't start fires. Trees don't start fires. People start fires."

State officials decided to deal with the Hamakua concerns, Ching said.

Volunteers have driven the unpaved back roads of Hamakua, locating houses, determining where gates are locked, noting vicious dogs, plotting water sources.

The information will be entered on computer maps so firefighters can find remote locations more quickly, Robinson said.

"When a fire's happening, you don't want to spend your time figuring out what to do," he said.

A yearlong follow-up to the workshop will take place, and officials hope other communities in the state will join the Firewise planning.

More information is available at www.firewise.org/communities or by calling Ching at 587-4173.



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