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Hawaii braces for intensified brush fire season amid climate change concerns

By Paul Drewes

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    HONOLULU (KITV) — As temperatures heat up for summer, brush fire season will also ramp up in Hawaii.

Wetter weather over the winter may have turned hillsides and mountains green, but that could pose problems as the islands dry out.

“What we see is a wetter winter coming into a drier summer, the creates a situation where there is fuel built up. The fuels then dry out and it increases the risk of fire,” said Climatologist Ryan Longman.

Each island already has some areas of moderate or even severe drought. But drought conditions are expected to worsen as as Hawaii transitions to its dry season. That has island firefighters preparing to be busy.

“We are coming into brush fire season. Everybody is getting ramped up and geared up, not knowing what is ahead,” stated Hawaii Firefighters Association President Bobby Lee.

What they do know is typically the number of brush fires peaks over summer, “we anticipate with all the fuel, it will be busy summer. It usually peaks around July when our department will average 60 wildfires a month,” said Maui Fire Chief Brad Ventura.

While out of control wildfires devastated Lahaina, they are not unique to Hawaii.

“Wildfires are a major issue not only in Lahaina. We are seeing it in places where traditionally wildfires were not a major concern. The west coast, California, and Oregon have a long history of wildfires. Now we are seeing them in places like New Jersey and Massachusetts,” said Edward Kelly, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Massive wildfires happening across more of the mainland is just one effect of climate change. As temperatures warm they will also have a greater impact on Hawaii’s dry summer weather.

“Longer droughts, most intense droughts and more frequent droughts,” added Longman.

That may mean, in the future, island firefighters could be even busier. Which is why they want to make sure Hawaii residents also get ready for wildfire season.

“We are dealing with more extreme conditions, more extreme drought and winds. So everyone needs to be focused on what is happening in their neighborhood on a daily basis. So they are ready to evacuate in a timely manner,” stated Ventura.

To let people know of the dangers during the dry summer season, a fire warning tool will be released this year. It will monitor wind, temperature, humidity and vegetation levels, to provide near real time fire risk assessments for areas around the state.

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