Tomoaki Miura and Clay Trauernicht trace wildfire ignitions on the Big Island.
to Clay Trauernicht discuss his passion, and you’ll realize you haven’t been
paying enough attention to wildfires in Hawai‘i. Fortunately, with the help of
Tomoaki Miura’s GIS data-mapping project, he’s created a website and
interactive map to help address this issue.
may not realize wildland fires are a serious and growing problem in the
Islands. But data compiled by the nonprofit Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization,
which Dr. Trauernicht used to create the map, show a trend long suspected by
fire responders and land managers: though the land area affected is much
smaller than in states more associated with forest fires, the percentage of land area is approximately
equal—some years even higher. On average, over 1,000 ignitions involve more
than 17,000 acres a year. “We’re running off a cliff in terms of wildfires in
this state,” he warns.
wildfires haven’t gotten much publicity in Hawai‘i, though, and resources have
been correspondingly lacking. There are no specially dedicated wildfire
fighters, except on military bases and at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park; all
other crews combine this duty with their full-time day jobs.
courtesy of Dr. Trauernicht for the Pacific Fire Exchange, a consortium of federal, state, and local
partners he helps to coordinate.
for funding—for prevention, management, and recovery—is an important use for
the Hawaii State Wildfire History website), which shows ignitions on all
islands by location, land area, and date. State and county agencies can use the
information to petition for support, while individual towns or communities need
it to develop Community Wildfire Protection Plans. These justify federal
funding for risk mitigation (e.g., fire breaks) and infrastructure like access
routes and helicopter dip tanks for dumping water on the flames.
Miura is excited at the potential uses of the map, the first to go public of
several projects using the powerful data-mapping infrastructure he and his team
have developed. “We wanted to provide a service to researchers and extension
specialists in the college,” he explains, because the maps created can then be
utilized by the larger community.
Dr. Trauernicht points out, the emerging pattern of ignitions confirms that,
unlike on the Mainland, almost all are caused by humans. And that just may be
the greatest benefit of the map—because knowing the effects of our behavior is
the first step to changing it.