Wildfires are a serious concern, in the Islands as well as on the Mainland. Wildland fire expert Clay Trauernicht (NREM) recently gave a presentation on this timely subject on Maui, hosted by the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council. He pointed out to them that wildfires in Hawai‘i create an extra layer of damage that isn’t an issue on the Mainland: their effects can also harm coral reef systems.
But that’s not the only problem—besides damage to marine environments, human and animal life, and property, wildfires can profoundly alter the percentage of native species growing in a given location. That’s because many invasive species, particularly introduced grasses, can grow back quickly after a fire, whereas many native species take so long to regrow that they’re outcompeted. Choosing to plant other vegetation, like trees that can shade out non-native grasses, is one way of reducing the fuel load that contributes to wildfires, Clay explained.
Prevention is crucial—72 percent of wildfires with known causes are accidental, which Clay says means that they can be avoided. Since over the past century there has been a fourfold increase in the acreage burned annually in Hawai‘i, the time for prevention is now!
Clay had gone into even more detail about how to prevent wildland fires just the week before his presentation, in a letter to the editor of the Maui News. The letter, a response to an article published a few days before about the West Maui fires this past summer during Hurricane Lane, quoted many of those interviewed who were asking “What do we do?” In his response, Clay pointed out that there are indeed things we can do, not only reducing fuel loads but also watching out for ignition sources, which spark fires. And, offering some hope, he listed the many organizations and groups that are in fact working on these problems.
You can read Clay’s letter to the editor here and check out a Maui News article about his presentation here.