New system to alert potential fire dangers launched

Derek Wroe
Derek Wroe
Capt. Terry Seelig
Capt. Terry Seelig

By Leland Kim - bio | email

MANOA (KHNL) -   East Oahu is in "extreme drought," according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.  Other parts of the state also face moderate to severe drought conditions.  This very dry season creates the perfect scenario for brush fires.

Thursday, the National Weather Service launched a brand new system to alert first responders about potential fire dangers.  The new Fire Weather Watch system doesn't predict fires, but what it does is, it alerts people when conditions are ripe for brush fires.

Dancing flames and scorched hillsides scarred two islands just about a year ago.  The Olowalu fires destroyed 2,600 acres on Maui in the last week of June in 2007.

And about a month later on Oahu, the Waialua fire near Schofield Barracks burned close to 7,000 acres on August 12, 2007.  Fire fighters spent close to a week battling the flames from the ground and air.

Fighting fire has typically been reactive, but the National Weather Service wants to make it preventive, through a new Fire Weather Watch system.

"So if we had this warning system in place, we could warn to the first responders, to the commanders on the ground, that there's dangerous conditions out there," said Derek Wroe, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service.

This new tool is similar to tsunami warning systems in alerting people about potential dangers.

"And normally what we're trying to speak of is the high fire danger or control problems," said Wroe.  "So they're going to have difficulty controlling it which is also a danger to firefighters."

This is especially important during these dry summer months, especially in the leeward areas.

"And when that happens, the fuels, meaning the grasses and the small shrubs, they dry out," said Wroe. "And they're usually prone to fire this time of the year."

The Fire Weather Watch system enhances existing systems.

"All that this product will do is make that better, in terms of awareness that the risk is greater," said Capt. Terry Seelig, a spokesperson for the Honolulu Fire Department.

And, fire officials say, prevention is the key.

"Be vigilant against fires starting when they're using it," said Seelig. "Meaning be careful how you use fires because you can accidentally start a fire."

Looking at high tech ways to prevent brush fires.

Fire officials also say look around your house, and cut back dead brush and throw away debris to minimize your risk of a fire.  And if you see a fire, report it immediately because every second counts.

For more information, click the link to the National Weather Service on this page.