Oct 12, 2023
Take Time to Be Firewise®
Like everyone, I was so very saddened by the Maui wildfires in August. At the same time, I’ve been awed by several things: the strength and stamina of the Maui community, the overwhelming support from around the world, and the places and things that survived against all odds.
I’m sure you’ve seen the photos of the famous banyan tree that is starting to show green leaves again, and of the “miracle house” in Lahaina, its red roof standing out against the black landscape. Fire officials studied this home in detail to determine why it was spared when so many others were taken. There were several reasons, but the findings concluded that the #1 factor was a five-foot border of river stones all around the house’s foundation.
That made me wonder how my house in Waikoloa would fare (God forbid) in the face of fire. For the record, the Maui situation was unprecedented, a “perfect storm” of hot fire, abundant dry fuel caused by long term drought and regional deforestation, very strong winds—which fanned the fire and prevented water drops by helicopter, and (possibly) damaged electrical wires. That said, there is no reason to be complacent, and it is always better to be prepared.
Firewise USA® Communities
Did you know that Waikoloa is a Firewise USA® community? Yes, we—along with 13 other locations on Hawai‘i Island—have put in the time and effort to meet the qualifications and be recognized by the Firewise USA® program. The program “offers a framework for neighbors in fire-prone areas to get organized, find direction, and take action to increase the ignition resistance of their homes and communities. It also catalogs every community in the country that is working to build in wildfire resiliency and preparedness.”
In Hawai‘i, Waikoloa in particular, this is a team effort, involving several government and nonprofit organizations: the state’s Division of Forestry & Wildlife (DOFAW), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Hawaiʻi Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO), and Waikoloa’s WVA Firewise® Committee. In our area, focus is on individual responsibilities such as smoke alarms and landscape maintenance, and community responsibilities such as those the WVA takes on. These include leasing vacant land for cattle grazing, maintaining fuelbreaks, mowing overgrown grass and shrubs, and more. The WVA Firewise® Committee provides workshops, community outreach, and educational programs and services in the village. Two of their committee members are also HWMO-trained wildfire home assessors.
Home assessments are free, and are available to single family homes or duplexes throughout the entire village, not just WVA members.* I went online to the Hawai‘i Wildfire Management Organization’s website, and filled out an assessment request form. Within a couple of days, Jessica Santa Cruz, Wildfire Mitigation Program Manager contacted me to set up the appointment.
When the day came, HWMO Home Assessors Dana and Shelly Aina visited, along with Hawai‘i Fire Department Inspector Requelman. They couldn’t have been nicer, their very thorough inspection took about an hour, and I’m happy to say that overall, we got pretty good grades.
They did find a few things to be improved around the house and lot. Simple fixes that could make an important difference, such as:
- Garage Door. The seals are worn, and they suggested replacing them to prevent embers from entering the house.
- Lānai. They recommended moving potted plants farther away from the house, and taking down the coco-fiber hanging baskets under the eaves, which could be very flammable. They also suggested bringing the furniture cushions inside when I go on vacation or if fire is nearby, and covering the heavy upholstered sofa with a fire-resistant tarp.
- Gravel “moat.” The gravel border around the foundation is good, and the team suggested I keep a five-foot zone free of debris all around the house. My particle board shelves will need to be moved too.
- Landscaping. They suggested pruning the lower limbs of some of the trees.
I will report any expense, including the number of hours I spend myself on these improvements. This is very important, as an investment with monetary value is required in order to maintain Firewise USA® Community Recognition status.
Now for the good news. As everyone in real estate knows, the most important feature of any home is location location location. My house’s location is good because it is:
- In a mostly flat area, and on a paved road, easy for firefighters to access.
- A few blocks from the large un-managed area on makai side, and not generally in the path of prevailing mauka-makai winds.
- On a corner lot, with lots of space between the home and neighbors except on one side, and that property is well maintained.
- Near two evacuation options at Paniolo Ave. and the Hulu St. evacuation road (see the link to the virtual drive below).
I encourage everyone in Waikoloa to sign up for a home assessment.* It’s free, it doesn’t take up much of your time, the assessors aren’t at all judgy, and there isn’t any kind of penalty if your place needs work. AND it could make the difference between protecting your home from fire, or losing everything.
Let’s work together to help keep our community fire-wise and loving life in Waikoloa Village, today and for years to come!
- Ready, Set, Go! Wildfire Action Guide
- Hawai’i Wildfire Management Organization Firewise USA® Program
- Waikoloa Village Association (WVA) Firewise Committee
- HULU ST EXIT, virtual drive of the entire road
- Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization
- National Fire Protection Association – Firewise USA
*The free home assessments are only available to single family homes (and ‘ohana units if any) or duplexes within a Firewise USA® community, such as Waikoloa Village. Apartments, businesses, resorts, larger buildings, etc. do not qualify for the free service, but are encouraged to contact [email protected] for paid services.