Saturday, June 2, 2001

Summer brings
increased danger
of brush fires

Leeward Oahu is the island’s
‘hot spot,’ but no area is immune

By Lisa Asato

Daphne Kahawai-Tom faces a daily reminder of how close a brush fire came to damaging her home last July: Charred kiawe trees stand 30 feet from her property on Mamoalii Place in Maili.

Around the home is about 89 acres of dry kiawe trees and grass, she said -- something that worries her. That fire damaged three of her neighbors' homes. "That's one of our main concerns for the Waianae district area, especially now after spring because everything starts to turn brown," she said.

Leeward Oahu is the island's hot spot for brush fires, and in the past 15 years, Kahawai-Tom and her family have witnessed about six or seven.

As the brush fire season begins this month, Honolulu fire Capt. Richard Soo wants residents to know that "no area (on Oahu) is immune to brush fires."

The department has responded to brush fires from Sandy Beach to Waipio Gentry, where last year a 300-acre blaze shut down the H-2 freeway for four hours during the rush hour.

"Brush fires are real significant because it's something that people islandwide think, 'Ho, it doesn't affect me, I live in a high-rise in Makiki,'" said Soo, the department spokesman. "But it affects everyone. The sheer use and stretching of our fire personnel for a large brush fire taxes everyone."

The brush-fire season coincides with summer break for students, lasting from June to September, Soo said, but that does not mean the kids are the ones starting the fires. Many times, brush fires begin from acts such as flicking a lit cigarette out a car window or not extinguishing a campfire. "It's the simple things," he said.

The rise in outdoor activities in the summer combined with four years of drought may mean "a very active brush fire season," he said. Drought conditions have also been declared for Molokai, Upcountry Maui and Big Island, except for Hilo and Puna.

Hawaii County Fire Chief Edward Bumatay said that while the island does not see many brush fires, most occur in remote areas of North and South Kohala and Kau. "Trucks cannot get there," he said. "We have to use a chopper, but by the time it gets there, the fire is raging."


Wildfire season is from June to September. Here are some precautions to take, according to fire Capt. Richard Soo:

Protect your home:

>> Don't collect newspapers and rubbish outside the house. Clean roof and gutters.

>> Remove dead branches that extend over the roof, as well as leaves and rubbish lying under structures.

>> Mow grass regularly.

>> Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammables in approved safety cans. Put them away from the base of buildings.

>> Make sure your garden hose is long enough to reach any area of the house and other structures and that your ladder will reach the roof.

When a brush fire threatens:

>> Shut off gas at the meter, and turn off pilot lights.

>> Turn on a light in each room to increase the visibility of your home in heavy smoke.

>> Close windows, vents, doors, blinds or heavy drapes. Remove lightweight curtains.

>> Turn off propane tanks and place combustible patio furniture inside.

>> Connect the garden hose to outside taps.

Call the Honolulu Fire Department at 831-7765 to learn about home fire hazards, or at 422-0827 for first-aid information.

E-mail to City Desk

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