Dousing the Flames

Molokai gaining wildfire fighting independence.

Firefighters on Molokai are bracing for another arduous wildfire season, but residents can look forward to a safer year thanks to some new gadgets.

“It is logistically difficult to put out wildfires on Molokai,” said Molokai Fire Captain Travis Tancayo.

When wildfires erupt on Molokai during wildfire season from May to November, a large portion of wildfire fighting equipment has to be sent to Molokai from Maui, according to Tancayo. While wildfire-fighting necessities such as tools and fuel are on their way from Maui, fires on Molokai continue to spread, damaging property and natural resources.

Local Action
To solve the problem, firefighters at Ho`olehua Fire Station have been collecting pieces of wildfire-fighting equipment for the past seven months to form a portable storage unit for firefighting equipment on Molokai.

The result of their efforts is a white trailer stationed at Ho`olehua Fire Station that is fully equipped to immediately respond to land fires. When a wildfire breaks out on Molokai, the firefighters can drive the trailer to the affected area, according to Molokai Fire Inspector Hanalei Lindo. After setting up one of the unit’s devices, a bright yellow, collapsible 2,500-gallon rubber water storage container called a water hog, they can use the long hoses in the trailer to fill the water hog from a fire hydrant. This water store will be readily available throughout their battle against the fire.

The trailer also contains foam to prevent fires from starting again and shovels to throw dirt on fire. For long work days in remote areas, the unit is complete with bottled water and set of folding chairs and tables so that the firefighters can take meal breaks.

“The Maui County Fire Department has ongoing opportunities to obtain grants, and some of these opportunities specifically deal with rural communities, for which Molokai is a stereotypical example,” said Maui District Forest Management Supervisor Glenn Shishido.

Money for the trailer’s equipment came from a United States Department of Agriculture grant, according to Shishido. Fire officials on Molokai, noting the island’s need for additional fire-fighting resources, worked to meet requirements for the grant to obtain funding for the equipment.

“Molokai has a long history of wild land fires,” said Shishido. “We have structural fires in buildings, but we needed equipment for fires occurring on undeveloped land in remote areas.”

You Can Help, Too
According to Debra Kelly at the Molokai-Lanai Soil & Water Conservation District, it is not only the fire station’s new equipment that has potential to make this year’s dry season go more smoothly. Each member of the community needs to take steps to make sure they are doing their part to prevent wildfires and protect their property.

An informational brochure created specifically for Molokai entitled “Firewise” advises residents to clear dead vegetation, yard waste, and dead tree limbs to at least 50 feet away from their homes, being careful not to move them closer to a neighbor’s home. Debris can carry a wildfire to a building, so residents should pay close attention to the area within ten feet of their homes. Flammable items should never be stored under houses, and lawns should be kept trim.

Each household should take responsibility for making a plan of what to do if a wildfire approaches their property, according to “Firewise.” The plan should include a list of valuable items to protect, a planned escape route, and a method for contacting family members. In addition, each household should own a hose and sprinkler system extensive enough to reach all areas of the home with water, including the roof. In all cases, it is important to remain calm.

“It is the homes that we are ultimately trying to protect,” said Kelly.

Contact the Fire Prevention Bureau at 553-8491 with questions about wildfire prevention and the upcoming wildfire season. Contact the Molokai-Lanai Soil & Water Conservation District at 567-6868 ext. 102 to obtain a copy of the “Firewise” brochure.

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