What Other Areas of Hawai‘i Are at High Risk for Wildfires?
Lahaina was one of the areas deemed most at risk, but maps from a Hawai‘i nonprofit dedicated to wildfire prevention reveal other communities that face potential threats.
This story is part of our HONOLULU series, “We Have Questions,” with our editorial team tackling questions being asked in the aftermath of the recent Maui fires.
As far back as 2015, the devastated Lahaina was reported among the areas across Hawai‘i most at risk for wildfires. Yet it’s not the only neighborhood across the Islands identified as high risk.
The Hawai‘i Wildfire Management Organization initiated a project to better understand the hazards and determine what could be done to prevent fires and kick-start collaboration.
The following maps they provided us show the communities facing the highest risk, which include most of the developed western coastal communities across the primary Hawaiian Islands, and other scattered spots across each island. The gray areas represent wildland areas that were not assessed.
On O‘ahu, those areas include the Mākaha, Waianae, Nānākuli Coast and upland areas, which have been fire hotspots. But it also includes some of urban Honolulu’s most densely populated areas and much of the East Honolulu coastline and upland area as well as Hale‘iwa and Waialua on the North Shore and much of the Kāne‘ohe community and part of Kailua.
On Maui, the maps show high risk not only in Lahaina, Ka‘anapali, Kīhei and Upcountry but also in urban Wailuku and the southern coast.
And for Hawai‘i Island, the red zones include Kawaihae, Waimea, Waikoloa, Kailua-Kona, South Kona, Hawaiian Ocean View and Nā‘ālehu, many spots where fires have already erupted this summer.
On Moloka‘i, swaths of high risk cover the west side as well as the communities of Ho‘olehua and Kaunakakai. Lana‘i shows smaller hotspots.
On Kaua‘i, the map shows high risk for the largest city of Līhu‘e, as well as Anahola, Kapa‘a, Wailua, Koloa, Waimea.
The report details that people cause most wildfires by accident, commonly by fireworks, sparking equipment, campfires not being put out cold and heat from cars and trucks driving or idling on dry grass.
To reduce that risk, experts point to managing land that has become overgrown with invasive fire-prone grasses, which serve as fuel for most of these fires. Landowners, elected officials and other decision-makers can help protect the community by:
- not leaving sprawling acres of overgrown grass
- maintaining firebreaks without vegetation that can slow the spread of fires
- providing access for firefighters and another exit for residents should the primary roads be blocked
But these steps require effort and funding that has not received widespread support. The organization’s reports contain a host of recommendations pulled together from the community over years of study.
Hawai‘i residents can help reduce the risk of wildfires around their homes by clearing dead plants and leaves, replacing home materials with noncombustible ones and making and practicing a family evacuation plan.
Wildfire maps, reports and tips on how to prevent wildfires can be found at hawaiiwildfire.org.
Illustrations: James Nakamura
If you have questions in the aftermath of the Maui fires that you would like addressed, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.