CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Frances Tam, who has lived on Ulei Loop in Nanakuli for 12 years, says she keeps a sharp eye on people and kids who play in the brush area above her home.
HFD wary on eve of fire season
Fire and police officials warn Oahu residents to be prepared
This year's brush fire season on Oahu could be as bad as last year's, which saw 949 blazes, say fire officials, who are advising residents to be prepared.
Heavy rains earlier this year have meant the return of the grass and brush, which provided the fuel for the brush fires last season, Honolulu Fire Department officials say.
During the firefighting efforts, many residents were forced to leave and seek emergency shelter, and the Fire Department wants people to be ready to go again just in case.
"There's a lot citizens can do to protect themselves and their community," said HFD spokesman Capt. Terry Seelig.
The Fire Department is urging Leeward Oahu residents to create a fire escape plan not just for their homes, but also to safely get out of their neighborhoods.
"It's a good idea to keep your property as clean and clear as possible of debris and brush," Seelig said. "Also keep a fire break trimmed around your house and have your driveways and roads clear so that we can get emergency vehicles in there as quickly as possible. Already plan on what you're going to take if you have to leave and how you're going to contact family members."
The only good news is: By this time last year, the major brush fires had already begun with one that consumed about 150 acres in Nanakuli on May 10. More than half of last year's brush fires -- 500 -- came from May through July.
"There is a potential for heavy fuel load when it starts to dry out," Seelig said. "There's no way to tell how bad a season it's going to be. So far we've had little ones but nothing big."
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
On Ulei Loop in Nanakuli, residents say they keep a sharp eye on people and kids who play in the brush area above their homes.
Seelig said the department has been preparing for another busy season by getting summer training out of the way early, making necessary repairs to vehicle and firefighting equipment, and adding mobile data terminals and portable computers in their fire trucks. The so-called MDTs are expected to help coordinate firefighting efforts by displaying on-screen where the incidents are on a map and which companies are responding to them.
Both police and fire officials blamed juveniles for many of the fires, saying the locations the fires originated from were too remote for the casual flick of a cigarette from a moving car or other accidental means. Kapolei police arrested nine people last year -- two adults and seven juveniles -- for allegedly setting brush fires.
Officers also had to do some firefighting of their own.
"They found quite a bit of fires on their beat in remote locations," said Kapolei police Maj. Mike Tamashiro. "Small fires, the kind that you could fight with a water hose or fire extinguisher. They stopped a lot of them before they began."
Tamashiro said he hopes the governor will sign into law a bill that calls for more severe penalties for those who maliciously set a fire that consumes more than 10,000 square feet and holds them liable for the cost of extinguishing that fire.
"Also parents will be held responsible for the actions of their children," he said. "We testified for it and we're hoping the legislation makes a difference."
According to a staff member at Nanakuli High and Intermediate School, the school has not so much as breathed the "f" word -- "fire" -- throughout the school year. Instead school officials will ask the student body during a pep rally on Friday to "be on their best behavior" as the year ends.
Police and fire officials also ask that people be on the lookout for suspicious circumstances, especially whenever juveniles are spotted in remote brush areas.
"Talk amongst the community, keep your eyes open and watch out and report suspicious activity, that would help," said Seelig.
Tamashiro adds, "I've talked to the Waianae Neighborhood Board, that if they've seen any suspicious activity, like some kids for no reason going up into the brush in the middle of nowhere or anything suspicious like that, we'll be glad to come out and check it out.
"The Fire Department worked really hard last year ... we're crossing our fingers and hoping this year is better."
TIPS FOR RESIDENTS DURING BRUSH FIRE SEASON
» Keep property clear of brush and debris.
» Trim a fire break around your home.
» Have driveways and roads clear so that emergency vehicles can get through.
» Have escape route out of neighborhood planned in case of emergency evacuation.
» Make a list of things you plan to take and whom to contact.
Source: Honolulu Fire Department
BRUSH FIRE TOTALS:
2006: 107 as of Friday