Planet808: Hawai‘i Sees 400% Increase in Acres Burned

Jul 26, 2019

Last year, a spark from a hammer was enough to ignite dry grass, and contribute to the largest wildfire in California history. All across the Western U.S., firefighters are wondering what might lie ahead this season. Here in the Islands, thousands evacuated earlier this month as a wildfire tore through central Maui.  In this edition of Planet808, HPR’s Noe Tanigawa looks at Hawai‘i’s increasing risk for wildfires.

Wildland Fire Specialist Clay Trauernicht is also the project leader for the Pacific Fire Exchange, part of the Joint Fire Science Program’s nationwide Fire Science Exchange Network.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

“We do have pretty frequent and increasing fire around the state,” says Clay Trauernicht, who is a Wildland Fire Specialist at UH Mānoa, in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management. 

Trauernicht points to O‘ahu, which he calls off the charts with wildfire occurrences, and to a 400% increase in acres burned across the state since the 1960’s. In this segment, he discusses the cause, which comes down to changes in land use, and often now, disuse.

Trauernicht is a biologist and ecologist by training, and worked many years as a botanist in Hawai‘i, which is an interesting way to get into fire--via ecology and fuels. Trauernicht also studies fire and its effects around the Pacific, including in Guam, Yap and Western  Micronesia where fires are frequent.

Why Hawai‘i wildfires are unique, and adaptive measures we can take, in the next edition of Planet808.