Well before summer, state exceeds budget for fighting wildfires
NANAKULI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A massive blaze in Nanakuli is increasing the financial strain on the state agency in charge of fighting wildland fires. The flames have charred roughly 2,500 acres.
The state Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) used up its $500,000 fire response budget in February, more than four months before the start of the new fiscal year this summer. The funding covers the cost of overtime, meals, and helicopters used for water drops.
"We don't have full-time firefighters at DOFAW. When a fire starts to burn we have to pull people off their normal job to go out and work those fires," said Rob Hauff, DOFAW's state protection forester.
This is the third time since 2010 that the state has used up its annual fire response funding.
"We're about $350,000 over what our budget was so we're scrambling to figure out ways to cover that cost without impacting our other programs," said Hauff. "There's always a spike during El Niño years, the number of fires and areas that burn."
Governor David Ige is looking to boost fire suppression efforts by asking legislators for $800,000 in his state budget proposal for the next fiscal year. The funding challenge comes as Hawaii faces an increasing threat from wildfires.
"There's been a four-fold increase within the past couple decades in terms of area burned per year statewide," said Clay Trauernich, wildland fire specialist with the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "What's really most likely driving that is the decrease in plantation agriculture and ranching so you've got many more acres of land that are now unmanaged."
With the hot summer months coming up, experts are warning people about the high risk of wildfires.
"The way we looked at it was actually to look at the percentage of our land area that burns in a given year and that really opened our eyes to the fact that we're on par and in some years worse than the western United States," Trauernich said.
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