The Big Island's Waikoloa Beach Marriott played host to this year's California - Nevada - Hawaii Forest Fire Council Training and Seminar (April 9-11), drawing attendees from all over the three listed states and from the Pacific Islands. HWMO and PFX teamed up to set up a booth to disseminate information about Hawaii's wildfire issues and what's being done to mitigate them - as a highlight, PFX's first Fact Sheet was rolled out at the event: Wildfire in Hawaii (link). Day One kept the audience captivated with a variety of informative and exciting talks spanning the world over.
Attendees were informed about the latest Australian bushfires (Richard Woods), East Bay Regional Park District's WUI projects (Brad Gallup), Maui Fire Department's IMT3 activities (Henry Lindo, Jr.), and the International ICS program operating in Indonesia, Vietnam, and a variety of other countries (Rusty Witwer). Paul Steensland and Alan Carlson brought the attendees along an exciting two-hour long ride through a twenty-year investigation and hunt for the Rumsey Canyon Serial Arsonist. Preceding these great presentations, Wayne Ching, Division of Forestry and Wildlife's long-standing and soon-to-retire Fire Management Officer, as well as organizer of this year's event, was honored by those in attendance. DOFAW's Protection Foresters from each main island, Patrick Porter (Kauai), Jay Hatayama (Hawaii Island), Ryan Peralta (Oahu), and Lance De Silva (Maui) led a few morning toasts to Wayne and his remarkable career.
To cap off the tribute, all attendees simultaneously revealed red shirts with a picture of Mr. Ching and a list of major incidents he had worked on in his career, either wearing or waving the shirt in a sort of Red Shirt Salute. Here's HWMO's video capturing the moment:
Day Two took members out of their seats and into the outdoors for a field tour. Following a beautiful hike along the Ala Kahakai Trail along Anaeho'omalu Bay, members caravanned over to Puako to visit the community's fuelbreak, which HWMO provided funding and assistance. Peter Hackstedde, Puako Community Association President and a new addition to the HWMO Board of Directors spoke about the fuelbreak efforts, with Elizabeth Pickett, Executive Director of HWMO and Co-Coordinator of PFX, chiming in. The group then took a driving tour through the entirety of the fuelbreak, which runs three miles and borders the entire Puako community, providing a buffer of at least 60-100 feet between houses and the mesquite (kiawe) forest.
For the second time since PFX's first field tour in June 25, 2013, Wayne Ching decided to replicate the experience and discussion of the Mauna Kea 33 Fire at the physical location of the fire at Mauna Kea State Park, which threatened the last remaining population of Palila, who number less than 2000, only a few miles away. Special guests Miles Nakahara, retired HWMO President and retired DOFAW Wildlife Biologist, Eric Moller, USAG-P, FES Deputy Fire Chief, Glen Timbal, USAG-P, FES Assistant Fire Chief, Susan Cordell, US Forest Service PSW-IPIF Research Ecologist, and Mr. Hatayama joined Mr. Ching to highlight the first-hand experiences of fighting the fire. The group discussed fire boundaries, initial and extended attack details, incident command, mop-up, results of the After Action Review, suppression challenges and successes and the post-fire impacts of the fire.
The discussion concluded with the ramifications on future fire and resource management for this area and its included and nearby critical habitat. Chief Moller added a nice plug for PFX, "It really does develop a concerted effort. For one, it protects my firefighters because we now have a better understanding of what's going on, but it also helps the community and the managers, set their lands up so that they're not fire-prone. It is a win-win-win all the way around," said Chief Moller. Ms. Cordell and Mr. Nakahara agreed with Chief Moller and recognizing PFX's efforts. Audio from the field tour can be heard in the column on the left.
The final day of the event kept the excitement rolling with an engaging and impactful lineup. Two of the most important events of the history of wildfire within the last decade made their way into the lineup - both events occurred in 2013. John Truett gave a moving and harrowing review of the Yarnell Hill Fire which claimed the lives of 19 firefighters in Arizona last year. Mr. Truett reviewed the chain of events that led to the fatality, as well as the incredibly challenging orchestration of the ceremonies thereafter. We will never know the full stories, since those were lost with those who had fallen, but the talk gave a clearer picture of the day's tumultuous proceedings.
The room fell respectfully silent after the presentation ended with an emotional video honoring the 19. Following a presentation about emergency preparedness at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (David Benitez), Incident Commander Jerry McGowan gave an insightful and entertaining presentation reporting the details of the 3rd largest fire in California's history, the Rim Fire, and the unprecedented conditions that firefighters were up against, as well as how the incident was managed given a multi-agency, multi-state response.
HWMO and PFX had the honor to share a presentation before these speakers. Ms. Pickett gave background on HWMO and the many projects it's currently involved in throughout the state, including Hazard Assessments, Community Wildfire Protection Plans, and fuels management projects. Clay Trauernicht, PFX Co-Coordinator and UH Manoa CTAHR Wildfire Extension Specialist, took over the reins to present the latest Hawaii wildfire history data and analyses. To present this information within the context we were in was certainly a highlight for HWMO and PFX. "Definitely the heaviest line-up of speakers I've ever had the honor to share a podium with. It's a truly inspirational group of folks involved with fire across the western region," exclaimed Mr. Trauernicht.
Part 1 of 2:
Part 2 of 2: