Hawaii faces increased wildfire risk this summer

Agencies prepare for increased wildfire risk for Hawaii
Published: May. 2, 2016 at 10:09 PM HST|Updated: May. 3, 2016 at 2:04 AM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - This summer could be one of the worst in recent years for fast-moving wildfires in the islands.

A new report from the National Interagency Fire Center indicates a normal year for most of the country, but Hawaii, Alaska, and the Southwest face an increased danger for significant wildland fires from May through August.

The forecast came as no surprise to local agencies that have been keeping tabs on the unusually dry conditions in Hawaii.

"We've sort of been tracking the progression of the drought, so we're pretty well aware that we're facing an above-average fire season for the summer," said Clay Trauernicht, a wildfire specialist with the University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension.

Rainfall was below normal for much of the state in April. Drought is expected to develop or intensify across Hawaii before finally peaking in early fall.

"We're seeing reports of El Nino subsiding, but what that means for us is, it's sort of leading us right into our summertime dry season. So even though it's going to look like a normal summer, we have this big rainfall deficit from the wintertime," Trauernicht said.

Honolulu Fire Department officials said they're ready for a potentially busy summer.

"If there was a large incident, brush fire or any other kind of emergency, we have procedures in place of calling personnel off-duty, on-duty. We have a memorandum of agreement with other agencies as far as manpower and equipment," said HFD Captain David Jenkins.

The state's Division of Forestry and Wildlife has already exceeded its fire response budget by roughly $400,000 for this fiscal year.

"It's not a situation where they're going to stop fighting fires, but it definitely puts a strain on the budget," said Trauernicht.

Several agencies are working together and will soon be launching a new wildfire prevention and preparedness campaign to help keep communities safe.

"There's a lot of things you can do both to prevent fires from starting, as well as reducing fire risks around your homes," Trauernicht said.

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