Honolulu Firefighters Offer Hiking Safety Tips Ahead of July 4 Weekend
In response to an increase in rescues on Oʻahu in recent weeks, the Honolulu Fire Department and state officials are reminding everyone to be prepared before going on a hike this Fourth of July weekend.
"Summer's here and the time is right!" said Aaron Lowe, trail specialist with the Nā Ala Hele program at the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. "There are people hiking all over from what we've seen. And that's great!"
Lowe says there are more people hitting the trails. As an example, the recently reopened Mānoa Falls trail is now seeing 1,000 people a day.
He believes it could be more people wanting to experience the great outdoors after being confined to their homes for a year.
But with that, there's been an uptick in hiker rescues, especially on Oʻahu.
"HFD has responded to 348 land and ocean rescue incidents from January 1 to June 22," said Blake Takahashi, a captain with the Honolulu Fire Department's Rescue One crew.
Of that total, Takahashi says there have been 33 land searches, 36 water searches, 170 high angle (helicopter) rescues, 49 swimming or recreational water area rescues, 26 surf rescues, and 34 watercraft rescues.
In comparison, in the first six months of 2019, the fire department responded to 259 rescue calls - or 25% fewer calls than in 2021. When narrowed down to hiking-related rescues, there was an 18% increase from 2019.
Of the rescues in 2021, HFD says 42% were visitors and 39% were residents.
In response to this uptick, HFD and state officials want to remind people of some hiking safety tips before heading out on the trails.
Lowe says hikers should always stay on the trails and hike with a partner.
"Avoid undue risk, because this is a big one that's very common nowadays," Lowe said. "Because the younger generation of people, or even the not younger generation of people [are] taking risks, trying to do the top of waterfalls, or they're just trying to do something more adventurous. But with more adventure also comes more risk."
Weather plays a big role on the trails, changing the conditions and difficulty of a hike. It can also cause problems for rescuers.
"Weather often plays a critical role in our rescues," said Dustin Harris, an HFD helicopter pilot.
"Generally a good way to think about it is if there's going to be conditions that are going to make it difficult, or more challenging, for you to complete your hike, then the same conditions are oftentimes creating additional hazards or challenges for us as pilots and the rescue personnel that are on the ground."
Lowe and Harris advise hikers to check the weather before starting and to monitor throughout the hike.
Experts say keeping track of the time is also critical. Harris says darkness not only increases the likelihood of needing to be rescued, but it also complicates rescue efforts.
Another thing experts want hikers to know is to prepare ahead of time, and not to use independent hiking apps or websites.
Before you head out, Lowe suggests you should also have plenty of water, a whistle or flashlight, and a bright article of clothing.
More information state trails and safety tips can be found on the state's official hiking website: hawaiitrails.hawaii.gov