West Oahu residents take matters into their own hands as threat of brush fires loom

Residents on Oahu’s westside said it is only a matter of time before the next big brush fire sweeps through the area.
Published: Dec. 5, 2022 at 11:16 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 5, 2022 at 8:33 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Residents on Oahu’s westside say it is only a matter of time before the next big brush fire sweeps through the area.

Shermaih “Bulla”la runs a farm at the top of Waianae Valley Road.

In 2018, he lost almost everything in a brush fire.

“The whole farm got destroyed along with all the other tenants’ farms,” he said.

Now, he’s removing vegetation to create a “fire break” that stops the flames from spreading. Iaea said goats are just one resource he uses because they eat away at the brush that fuels the fire’s spread.

“I can’t move forward unless I can protect my farm from the fire,” he said.

The project is being funded by the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization.

State Sen. Maile Shimabukuro said residents are taking the threat of brush fires seriously.

“It’s like a tinder box. It’s about to happen at any moment,” said Shimabukuro. “I’m terrified that we might see loss of life.”

Shimabukuro said one thing she’s heard from her constituents is a request for a fire hawk helicopter, so they don’t have to rely on Air 1, the Honolulu Fire Department’s current helicopter.

“It’s got so much more water capacity that it would be able to put it out so much more quicker — and that was the problem last time was it just took them so long. They had the small helicopter going back and fourth,” she said.

In response to this, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said it did not have an aerial firefighter division and starting one would be a major project that would require additional state funding.

Furthermore, the Honolulu Fire Department said it has no plans to get a “fire hawk,” but said they are planning to purchase a twin engine helicopter that would “significantly improve our Aviation Program’s mission scope and safety profile.”

However, for farmers like Iaea, he said he’s not leaving it up to city or state to protect him.

“I have to take it up in my own hands to protect my farm from continued burning.”

HFD said there is currently no increased risk for a potential brush fire but encourages residents to take precautions.