Brush fires loom this summer
Parched conditions fuel blaze concerns
It's been a dry year, and Oahu fire officials are warning residents to get ready for brush fires.
The summer isn't expected to bring any real reprieve, especially for leeward areas, said Kevin Kodama, senior hydrologist at the National Weather Service.
PAST BRUSH FIRES
2007 (through June 1): 235
Source: Honolulu Fire Department
Temperatures are expected to hover around the high 80s and low 90s this summer, said Wayne Ching, state protection forester of the Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
"The light rains we had the past couple of days isn't really anything," Ching said. "We're facing a hot and dry summer that will probably extend into October."
Weather officials predict more dry days unless tradewinds bring moisture to windward areas. The dry season in the state usually runs from June through September.
"If you come out of a wet season with below normal rainfall, like we did this year, and you just head right into the dry season, there is a concern," Kodama said.
Ching said he reminds residents who frequent forest reserves and hunting areas that outdoor fires are not allowed unless in a container. He said state forest officials will be vigilant this summer in keeping an eye out for violators. "And of course, keep the brush away from your homes," Ching said.
The Honolulu Fire Department officials said in a statement that they are reviewing equipment and supplies to ensure the department will be ready to fight fires.
El Niño conditions, a weather phenomenon that warms Pacific equatorial waters, extended into spring this year, which has dried out vegetation on Oahu that isn't going to get much wetter.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Honolulu firefighters mopped up hot spots in Waianae after a brush fire erupted on May 10. The fire burned about 30 acres. Temperatures are expected to hover around the high 80s and low 90s this summer, and that has fire officials worried about brush fires. CLICK FOR LARGE
"I just came back from Hilo, and they're really bad," Ching said.
Big Island Mayor Harry Kim has declared a state of emergency for Hawaii County, including bans on outdoor fires except blazes that are approved or for cooking food and heating water.
Residents can only burn 500 feet from any residence, or 15 feet from any structure. That way, the more urban areas of the Big Island may be protected, said Troy Kindred, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator.
"When we're talking about limiting people in town from burning brush, we're talking about saving the urban interface," Kindred said.
The county has issued a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water consumption in Waimea and parts of Kawaihae, Paauilo and Ahualoa.
He also reminded residents with catchment systems to check their water levels every day, because it could be up to a week until they can receive more water.
"They should be checking their levels every day for the quantity and quality of it," Kindred said.
The Honolulu Fire Department offers the following tips to guard against brush fires.
Report hazardous conditions, including:
» Unauthorized dumping of rubbish and vegetation
» Vegetation that is overgrown, tall and dry
» Branches close to overhead utility wires
» Campfires left smoldering
Protect your home:
» Ensure that fire equipment and engines can get to your home by marking your driveway and address.
» Clean the roof and gutters regularly.
» Prevent dry plants and combustible materials from accumulating under buildings and roofs.
» Install a smoke detector on each level of your home and in every sleeping area. Change your batteries once a year.
» Keep a ladder that will reach the roof and have household items available that can be used as fire tools, like buckets and shovels.
Create a safety zone around your home:
» Mow the grass regularly.
» Rake and clear combustible vegetation like leaves, dead limbs and twigs.
» Remove dead branches extending over the roof.
» Remove vines from the walls.
» Clear an area around propane tanks and the barbecue.
» Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammable materials in approved safety cans in a safe location away from the building's base.
» Have a garden hose long enough to reach all structures on the property.
Prepare a brush fire emergency plan:
» Show family members how and when to shut off the water, gas and electricity at the main switches.
» Plan escape routes, and pick two meeting places in case the family is separated.
» Make a list of items to bring if advised to evacuate.
» Talk to your neighbors about fire safety. Be aware of neighbors who have special needs, such as the elderly, disabled and non-English speaking people.