Little-rainfall areas could soon become no-pop zones

Little-rainfall areas could soon become no-pop zones

20 January 2008

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Honolulu, Hawaii, USA — If state representatives get their way, county fire chiefs will be able to ban the use of fireworks in areas that receive little rainfall.

A proposed bill would give counties the ability to designate areas as “no-pop” zones where fireworks will be banned if an area receives an average annual rainfall of less than 10 inches.

The proposed bill is one of several being introduced as part of a “Wildfire Package” that House sponsors say would tackle the problem of wildfires in the state.

“This past year wildfires scorched more acres, disrupted more lives and endangered more property than ever before, and given the heavy rainfalls this wet winter, the ingredients are ripe for even bigger wildfire disasters if we fail to act,” said Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey, in a news release Friday.

McKelvey, a co-sponsor of the package, represents West Maui and north Kihei – both low-rainfall districts that have been struck by wildfires regularly.

The “no-pop” zones might leave some residents unhappy, he said, but the state is empowering the counties and allowing them to work with the residents. At least two brush fires last year were ignited by children illegally using fireworks.

There will be some loss of personal freedoms but there needs to be a balance with the public good, McKelvey said in a telephone interview Friday.

The bill, House Bill 2466, was passed on first reading Friday and moved to committee for review.

McKelvey has personally experienced the wrath of a wildfire as his Makila neighborhood was threatened by the massive wildfire in July. He said he evacuated his home with “my cats under my arms.”

The blaze scorched an estimated 2,600 acres after spreading from Olowalu to Launiupoko, destroyed one home and a tomato farm in Olowalu, and damaged several homes and structures in the Makila subdivision.

The damaging wildfire could have been avoided if some of the measures in the proposed packages had been in place, he said.

One measure, HB 2467, would establish road standards for fire equipment access, greenbelts and fuel breaks for properties in fire hazard districts, and ensure private water reserves for emergency systems in the state Fire Code.

Maui County’s Fire Code already includes several of the proposed standards, but other counties may not have the same codes in place, McKelvey said.

Other proposals include:

? HB 2464: Would allow state forestry and wildlife managers to impose restrictions on public lands if hazardous fire conditions exist. McKelvey pointed out that this provision could be used in areas such as the Kula Forest Reserve where several wildfires broke out last year.

A wildfire last year spread across 2,300 acres of the Kula Forest Reserve, burning out of control for nearly a week after a careless smoker threw away a lit cigarette. In July, two new fires broke out in areas that already were burned.

McKelvey said restrictions could include barring off-road vehicles or banning smoking in the area if there is a risk.

? HB 2485: Would establish a Firewise Hawaii program in the Department of Land and Natural Resources to address the growing fire danger in wildland-urban interface areas. Creates the Firewise Hawaii special fund.

Firewise Hawaii is a collaborative effort involving property owners or managers and government agencies with a goal to reduce the threat of wildfires.

“Because we are aware of the fiscal situation facing the state, we are working to make this a self-sustaining program by using the fund to funnel existing federal dollars into a statewide program,” said Oahu Rep. Ryan Yamane, another sponsor of the bills.

Denise Laitinen, Firewise program coordinator for Hawaii, supports the measure.

“It’s a definite step in the right direction and it’s sorely needed, given the size and frequency of wildfires that the state has experienced, in particular the west (side) of Hawaii island, and Maui and Oahu and Kauai,” she said.

Laitinen said putting the program in the Department of Land and Natural Resources will give the program stability and allow statewide Firewise programs that have proven to save homes and lives.

In Hawaii, individual communities such as Waikoloa in West Hawaii have implemented Firewise programs that protected homes when wildfires occurred, she said.

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