By Amy L. Bugala, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public AffairsMay 24, 2010
HONOLULU - U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii along with federal, state and city emergency response agencies hosted a joint news conference, May 13, at the Honolulu Fire Department's Charles H. Thurston Training Center to draw attention to the threat and impact of wildfires on Oahu.
"It takes more than one agency to control wildfires," said Honolulu Fire Department Chief Kenneth Silva, one of several fire chiefs at the event representing a combined Wildfire Task Force in which Oahu agencies work together to prevent and suppress wildfires.
"We've had a 175 wildland fires to date from January to April of this year," Silva said. "This task force is a huge resource for the island community, because the better coordinated we are, the safer we can be."
During the third annual event, task force representatives from the Honolulu Fire Department, the Federal Fire Department, USAG-HI, the Honolulu Police Department, the State Department of Land and Natural Resources-Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and the Hawaii National Weather Service emphasized community involvement, cooperation and vigilance, especially with the dry summer months rapidly approaching.
"With no significant drought relief expected until October, there is an increased wildfire risk this summer," said Raymond Tanabe, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Hawaii has experienced the driest "wet season" (October-April) in more than 30 years, creating the worst drought conditions in the country, Tanabe explained.
As members of the task force, USAG-HI's Environmental Division and the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, DLNR, provided information about their efforts to educate the public about the threat of wildfires to Hawaii's rare natural resources.
Hawaii is home to more than 10,000 species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. In a matter of minutes, wildland fires can decimate Hawaii's native forests, which include lands that border military housing and training areas.
"We have integrated training for our Soldiers regarding wildfires and their impacts on the environment," said Michelle Mansker, natural resource manager, Environmental Division, USAG-HI. The focus is on prevention and why wildfires could be detrimental to Soldier training.
"If a fire burns endangered species or its habitat," Mansker continued, "training could be shut down until the species and its habitat have recovered."
The Environmental Division also works to protect endangered plant species from wildfires by controlling the spread of excess fuels such as non-native Guinea grass at Makua Valley, which is found closest to the firebreak road.
"The last three fires have been able to be put out prior to burning endangered plants due to our vegetation control efforts," Mansker said.
The news conference closed with a display of various wildland firefighting equipment, including brush trucks, tankers, a special operations trailer and an all-terrain vehicle. Also, Smokey Bear, an international symbol of forest fire prevention, made a special appearance.
HPD representatives request vigilance in reporting suspicious fires, reminding the public that arson is a crime.
The Federal Fire Department urges the public to keep its eyes and ears open this season.