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Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Kaʻū News Briefs December 20, 2023

The ability to prevent and fight wildfires like this one along the Kaʻū Coast will be greatly improved with funding included in the Governor's budget proposal to upgrade equipment, according to DLNR. Photo by Bob Martin
WILDFIRES ON HAWAI'I ISLAND, Maui and O‘ahu this year raised awareness about this threat to a new level. State Department of Land & Natural Resources released a statement this week saying that the wildfire challenge is reflected in the proposed budget Governor Josh Green, M.D., submitted to the Hawai'i Legislature this week.
    DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife has primary responsibility for fire pre-suppression and firefighting on the one million acres of state land under its jurisdiction. DOFAW wildland firefighters also provide mutual support for county fire departments and federal partners, on another million acres statewide. The need for more resources for wildfire response, recovery, and prevention is something natural resource leaders have been seeking for a long-time.
    DOFAW Administrator David Smith commented, “If the legislature approves the Governor’s proposed budget for statewide wildfire mitigation and response, it will go a long way toward making sure we have the resources to fight wildfire effectively. More importantly, the proposed budget includes significant funding for reducing fuels as one of the critical components of what we call, ‘pre-suppression.’"
    The Governor’s budget request includes $10 million for fire equipment, which according to DOFAW, is one of the greatest needs.
New fire equipment is one of DOFAW's greatest needs to prevent
and fight fires. Photo from DLNR
  At the DOFAW base yard in Hilo, Assistant Protection Forester Jordan ‘Kama’ Lee-Loy describes one of two 50-year-old tankers. “This one isn’t being used anymore. The clutch went out and that’s a big fix. Finding parts for this old, outdated vehicle is difficult.”
    DOFAW maintains firefighting forces on all the main Hawaiian Islands and each branch still has antique fire apparatus. Some vehicles still run, but even those trucks and pumpers require a lot of maintenance before and after fires and Lee-Loy says that gets expensive.
    It’s up to DOFAW mechanic Mike Yamachika and his co-workers to try and keep everything running and safe. Unfortunately, there’s no modern replacement for one especially useful piece of equipment, according to DOFAW.
    The Gama Goat is a Vietnam war-era, six-wheel drive, military vehicle that can basically traverse about anything. At the Leilani Fire on Hawai‘i Island in 2022, the gangly vehicles were critical in transporting firefighters across lava fields and unimproved roads to reach places where fire crews could effectively battle the flames.
    Yamachika said, “They require a lot of maintenance, and you can’t buy new ones. Mexico bought a bunch of Gama Goats from the U.S., and they also purchased a lot of the parts inventory, so parts are hard to come by. We were lucky enough to purchase some spare parts before that, so when one breaks, we can fix it. There will come a time, probably within the next 10 years, when we won’t have parts and the life span of these vehicles will come to an end.”
    The Governor's proposed budget also calls for $7.4 million in general funds for fire response, rehabilitation, and fuels reduction.
    Since the Maui fires in August, DOFAW State Protection Forester Mike Walker has repeatedly responded to questions about the approximately 250,000 acres of state land under the division’s control now covered by invasive grasses.
     “After a fire or other ground disturbance, invasive grasses, like Guinea grass are the first plants to sprout. They out compete native species and there’s no easy, effective way to control them once that happens,” Walker explained.
    Flying over the Mililani-Mauka fire on O‘ahu last month, Walker pointed out the location of a previous fire in the same area. Invasive grasses have overtaken the landscape in many places. During an interview with 60 Minutes, above Lahainaluna High School, Walker showed the crew acre upon acre of invasive grass that replaced sugarcane once that industry folded. “The issue of invasive grasses is not one with an easy, readily identifiable solution,” Walker said.
    In addition to trying to control invasive grasses and rehabilitating lands post-fire, pre-suppression includes activities like creating fire breaks and fuel reduction.
    DLNR Chair Dawn Chang said, “The funding Governor Green has proposed will provide DOFAW the necessary tools it needs to not only fight fire, but more importantly prevent them. The threat of wildfire, in our changing climate especially with extreme drought conditions, is real and we need to be prepared. Wildfires impact our natural and cultural resources and as we saw in Lahaina, can cause mass destruction and tremendous loss of life. It’s critical that we be maka‘ala, vigilant, and dedicate resources to prevent and control wildfires, and restore the forests in their aftermath, for our community today and future generations to come.”

ENSURING HAWAIIAN ISLANDS brand "remains strong and accurately and authentically represents the people, places, and culture of Hawai'i throughout the world." That is the stated aim of Hawai'i Tourism
Authority, which is seeking Hawai'i Tourism Global Support Services for Brand Management & Marketing. The program is intended to "support HTA's comprehensive pre- and post-arrival visitor education and destination management efforts, as well as HTA's Global Marketing Team throughout the U.S., Canada, Japan, Oceania, Korea, China, and Europe."
     The call for proposals says, "The support services will include providing market insights, management and development of creative and digital assets, social media, website management, including GoHawaii.com, and application development and maintenance. The resources are also shared broadly with the public for the community, visitor industry, businesses, media, travel trade, and meetings, conventions and incentives industry representatives to utilize in their respective areas. The contractor’s work will be guided by HTA, its 2020-2025 Strategic Plan, the community-based Destination Management Action Plans, and the HTA Board of Directors."
    The public can be involved with Hawai'i Tourism Authority by attending its zoom board meetings including one this Thursday, Dec. 21 at 9 a.m. See HawaiiTourismAuthority.org

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KAMEHAMEHA SCHOOL WARRIORS came from Kea'au to face Kaʻū on Tuesday and took home the win 75 to 35. However, the Trojans leading scorer Tyson Kuahia-Faafia racked up 20 points, more than any other player on both teams. Trojan Dominic Nurial-Dacalio came up with 4. Keaka McDonnel and Kaulana Aikona posted 3 points. Brayson Andrade, Triton Blanco, and Kayson Pagan each made 2.
    So far this season, Waiakea beat Kaʻū 52 -28, Kaʻū beat Pahoa JV 36-19, Kaʻū came close but lost to Pahoa Varsity who took the game 54-47. Kaʻū beat Christian Liberty Academy 76-32.
    The next Trojan Boys Basketball game, with coach Tolu Rasmussen is Kaʻū at Hilo High on Dec. 30 at 5 p.m. The next home game is Jan. 11 with Kaʻū welcoming Honoka'a at 5:30 p.m.,

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HPD ARRESTED 29 FOR DUI, Dec. 11 through Dec. 17. Hawai'i Police Department made the arrests for driving under the influence of an intoxicant. Seven of the drivers were involved in a traffic collision. One was under the age of 21. So far this year, there have been 917 DUI arrests compared with 940 during the same period last year, a decrease of 2.5 percent.    
    Hawai‘i Police Department’s Traffic Services Section reviewed all updated crashes and found 817
 collisions so far this year compared with 809 during the same period last year, an increase of 0.99 percent.
    To date, there have been 15 fatal crashes, resulting in 16 fatalities, (one with multiple deaths); compared with 30 fatal crashes, resulting in 33 fatalities (one with multiple deaths, and one reclassified to a medical condition) for the same time last year. This represents a decrease of 50 percent for fatal crashes, and 51.5 percent for fatalities.
    To date, the non-traffic fatality count so far this year is 1 compared to 0 non-traffic fatalities (not on a public roadway) for the same time last year.
    HPD promises that DUI roadblocks and patrols will continue island wide.

CANDLELIGHT CHRISTMAS EVE LESSONS & CAROLS SERVICE will be held at First United Methodist Church in Nāʻālehu on Dec. 24. Minister Woodley White said, "Everyone is welcome to enjoy the sounds of handbells, 'ukulele, guitar and piano. Please join for a sacred experience of Christmas." It begins at 7 p.m.

A Christmas Eve service is open to all at Nāʻālehu United Methodist Church at 7 p.m. on Dec. 24.
Photo by Julia Neal