Multiple threats tax state, county emergency systems
A weakened Flossie spared Hawaii, but a wildfire on Oahu continued to spread.
HAWAII escaped calamity when Hurricane Flossie lost steam
before ranging over the islands. Government agencies appeared to have prepared well to deal with a potential for disaster as the hurricane gained enough force to be classified as a Category 4 storm at one point.
But while Flossie and Hawaii island garnered most of the attention, a stubborn wildfire that began Sunday was spreading across Oahu's North Shore, providing a glimpse of the burden multiple disasters can place on emergency services and the need for officials to stay alert.
State and county authorities commendably geared up early in anticipation of the storm. Lessons from local destructive events, like the heavy rains and the Ka Loko Dam failure last year, as well as the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina on the mainland, had primed emergency agencies to anticipate disaster.
Mayor Harry Kim, a veteran of emergencies due to his previous post as the county's civil defense director, set in motion plans to mitigate risks on his island, which was forecast to take the brunt of the storm. In coordination with the state, shelters were opened, emergency crews staged, parks and shoreline areas closed and public advisories repeatedly issued.
The state called off classes at public schools before the storm, when in the past that was left until conditions required shutdowns, causing unnecessary confusion, alarm and traffic problems. Even radio stations, whose broadcasts largely kept people informed when government communications malfunctioned during last year's earthquake, were ready.
More residents seemed prepared to weather the storm. Still, there were enough procrastinators hunting provisions to crowd stores and shopping malls at the last minute.
Meanwhile, on Oahu, city, state and military firefighters struggled to contain the fire that by yesterday morning had blackened nearly 7,000 acres from Waialua to Schofield Barracks, up the eastern face of the Waianae mountain range and the Mokuleia-Kaena Point area.
With the focus on Flossie, the wildfire seem to catch authorities off guard. As the state Department of Health issued an advisory, dense smoke, soot and ash blanketed leeward areas, forcing public schools to send children home midday.
The fire has damaged ranch and agriculture property, but no homes, although several were threatened by the blaze.
Unlike the storm, authorities could not anticipate the blaze. However, dry agricultural parcels left uncultivated are vulnerable to fires when weeds and brush take over. Land owners should make sure fallow properties are cleared to reduce the risks.
Though preparing for Flossie seemed to be a lot of pilikia for a bit of rain and wind, people should consider it good practice. The next storm might not be a miss.