Fire prevention is everyone’s business
by Shayna Decker | Oct. 27, 2021
When I learned National Fire Prevention Month was in October, my first thoughts were around preparedness at home: Are the batteries still good in our smoke alarms? Does my family know our escape routes in the event of a fire?
It was a helpful reminder to run through fire prevention safety tips to ensure my family is protected. I also took a look at our Hawaiian Electric Handbook for Emergency Preparedness, which includes a fill-in-the-blank evacuation plan to jot down our confirmed family meeting places and safe shelter options.
Acting on fire prevention measures is something we can all take part in — residents, communities, businesses large and small, landowners and land management agencies. It’s especially important considering recent forecasts of red flag warnings for our islands by the National Weather Service. The ideal combination of gusty winds, dry conditions and low moisture triggered these warnings along with calls to the public to cancel activities such as outdoor burning in leeward parts of the islands that might contribute to the start of quick-spreading wildland fires.
Even more so, recent reports indicated Maui County, where I live, is currently experiencing the worst drought conditions in the state. Because such drought conditions make our islands especially vulnerable to wildfires, our company continues to do its part to reduce such risks, which can threaten an island’s electrical system.
Such resilience work starts with proactive vegetation management around our electrical infrastructure and facilities on the five islands we serve. Other efforts include installing heavier, insulated conductors in areas prone to trees and large branches falling during high winds and preventing power lines from coming down.
We also partner with local safety officials and various wildfire organizations on protective fire breaks and risk mitigation across our service territory. This includes first-responder training workshops with our police and fire departments on electrical hazards during emergencies such as fires and downed power line safety.
Most recently, we provided nonprofit organization Malama Kahalawai with a $31,000 grant to restore an Olowalu stream corridor with native Hawaiian plants and trees crucial to wildfire mitigation. Funded through the Hawaiian Electric Industries Charitable Foundation (HEICF), the project involves the seeding, propagating, planting and monitoring of hardy and resilient species native to 14-acres of the mauna Kahalawai area or the West Maui mountains.
Chris Brosius, program manager for Mauna Kahalawai Watershed Partnership, explained establishing this “green belt” of native species is a prime example of how everyone can work together collaboratively to protect an area from unplanned natural forces. “Our native forests are under great stress from the impacts of invasive species, climate change, drought and fire. Improvements to this Olowalu stream corridor creates a healthier watershed, a more fire-resilient community, and a thriving native ecosystem from mauka to makai.”
Similarly, our recent donation to Kaala Farm will help with wildfire prevention and mitigation in West Oahu where our company also is part of a hui that is collaborating on efforts.
With climate change producing drier and hotter weather patterns and longer fire seasons, Hawaiian Electric will continue to prioritize resilience to uphold our commitment to powering our communities safely and reliably.
And, as for me, I can check off inspecting our smoke alarms and reviewing our family evacuation plan during National Fire Prevention Month. If you haven’t done this recently for your household, there’s no time like the present.
Shayna Decker is a communications manager at Hawaiian Electric.