t has been raining quite a bit lately with some snow even falling on Mauna Kea’s summit this month, but that means little when it comes to the Big Island’s fire season.
“We are expecting a dry summer even though we’ve been seeing a lot of rain recently in West Hawaii and islandwide. We are still below normal rainfall amounts and the trends have given the indication we could see more intense, active burning,” Hawaii Fire Department Chief Darryl Oliveira said Wednesday. “Unfortunately all of the rainfall we saw leads to an increase in vegetation growth and a substantial fuel load that has the potential to dry out. We are going to need the public to help out this season.”
Oliveira, who will retire in August, said he hopes community members and businesses will take the proper steps to protect themselves and others for the upcoming season. Oliveira also provided hints on how to prevent and handle a fire.
“The best advice we have is to always be cautious and see everyday, unless it’s raining, as a potential brush fire day,” he said.
Summer is the perfect time to get both your yard and home ready for the upcoming dry season, Oliveira said. People should take care to ensure any accumulated greenwaste is removed from yards and, perhaps, trade in such plants as pine and kiawe trees for succulent plants or vegetation that holds more water and is less likely to fuel a blaze, he said.
Oliveira also warned people who dump greenwaste over their yard’s boundary onto vacant land that they are putting themselves and others at risk because they are creating a fuel load very close to their home.
“It’s a big problem because now you’ve created the potential for a very hot fire very close to your property,” he said. “It may not be big flames, but could be a long-standing fire, a long-term constant threat.”
He also cautioned against backyard burning of materials because it presents both a fire and health risk.
“We live in a growing community and neighbors are closer,” Oliveira. “Please be mindful of fire, health and safety issues.”
Inside the home, residents should ensure fire extinguishers are operative and smoke detectors have an ample battery supply, Oliveira said and noted smoke detectors should be checked every six months.
When on the road or out-and-about enjoying the long summer days, Oliveira asked residents to think when flicking cigarettes, driving or stopping a running vehicle in high grass, using backyard and beach barbecues, and setting off fireworks.
Those interested in fireworks are best off checking out a free community display. A show is planned for Kailua Bay that will kick off at 8:15 p.m. July 4, he said.
If you must set off fireworks, Oliveira asked residents to be safe, use only legal fireworks, stay away from vegetation, have a fire extinguisher ready, wet down the area and keep a good eye on family members, especially keiki.
“Fireworks is a dangerous thing — it is an explosive,” he said. “If you don’t need to use fireworks don’t do it. Take advantage of the public displays that are safer and elaborate.”
The community can also help make the department’s job easier by quickly reporting any fire so firefighters can get all the necessary equipment on scene to quell the blaze. If there is an opportunity to quash the blaze, do so, but do not put yourself in danger, he added.
Residents should also take note of any unusual activity, such as cars or people leaving the area, because arson could be the cause of a blaze, he said.
“Just use good common sense. As soon as you see a sign of fire call it in so we can get resources out there,” Oliveira said.