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

Maui Fire Department
Maui Fire Department
This photo by the Maui Fire Department illustrates the scope and ferocity of recent blazes. Fire adapted grasses and shrubs are spreading into former agricultural and livestock lands, creating unprecedented situations for local fire fighters.

Last year, a spark from a hammer was enough to ignite dry grass, and contributed 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, an example of Hawai‘i’s increasing risk for wildfires.

Noe Tanigawa
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio
Hawai'i Public Radio
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.

“We do have pretty frequent and increasing fire around the state,” says Clay Trauernicht, who is a wildland fire specialist at University of Hawaii at M?noa 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 1960s. The cause 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. He 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.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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