Membership Highlights

Hawaiʻi Wildfire Management Organization

One Organization’s Story of Response to the Wildfire Disaster

We featured Hawaiʻi Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO) HANO Member Highlight on September 9, 2022. After the Maui fires, we asked HWMO if we could highlight them again to share their story of response to the wildfire disaster. 

Quick refresh on HWMO: They serve as Hawaii’s hub of wildfire prevention, mitigation, planning, and collaborative risk reduction and post-fire recovery projects. They were founded in 2000 to fill in the gaps in capacity of Hawaii’s fire and forestry agencies. HWMO runs Hawaii’s only community wildfire preparedness program in partnership with the Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW). They also co-lead the Pacific Fire Exchange project with University of Hawaiʻi, which is a primary source of Hawaiʻi- and Pacific-specific fire science and information for Hawaii’s natural resource managers and fire practitioners.

Before the recent devastating fires on Maui and Hawaiʻi Island, there were 18 communities in their Firewise program (www.hawaiiwildfire.org/firewise-program). Since the fires, they’ve added 13 new communities to their roster. Due to strong partnerships with Hawaii’s fire departments, forestry, and emergency management agencies, those partners have been sending concerned citizens to HWMO, post-disaster. As many scared communities looked to HWMO for wildfire preparedness education, technical assistance, or support, it necessitated an intense ramp up on HWMO’s behalf to meet the demand (a 1500% increase in community requests for assistance). 

While HWMO has not been involved in the humanitarian aid for Lāhainā and Olinda, they have been serving the many other communities, land managers, and fire agencies across the entire state who are requesting support to become better prepared, and are coordinating a number of post-fire recovery efforts with West Maui conservation and land managers. In an effort to ensure accurate information is available for those trying to understand and address wildfire in Hawaiʻi, they have been providing informational resources and publications, presenting at conferences, and sitting for interviews by local to national working groups conducting investigations and inquiries. They gave interviews for local to global media outlets during the peak period, when our fires dominated world news. And they put together go-to lists of resources for partners to have the information they need at their fingertips. 

All of this was accomplished by HWMO’s small (but growing) team of 4 full-time, 3 part-time, and 3 casual workers – plus 13 active volunteer community ambassadors (and 30 more in training), led by Co-Executive Directors Elizabeth Pickett and Nani Baretto. They grew the organization’s existing programs like never before, while simultaneously evolving to meet pressing new needs in a chaotic and sensitive environment.

In a recent holiday message to their partners and community members, Elizabeth and Nani shared:

The last few months have stretched us, and required more from us than we ever imagined could be possible. But we see a massive new level of wildfire-focused action by county fire departments, state forestry, university colleagues, ranchers, farmers, business owners, land-use planners, community leaders, elected officials, and residents. We see an acknowledgement that we must all incorporate wildfire safety into our everyday actions and work plans. We have often said there is a role for everyone to play in wildfire safety. Now, we are witnessing the people of Hawaiʻi learn more, step up, and take action. We couldn’t be more in awe, more encouraged, or more thankful. 

We never would have wanted this awareness and action to have transpired because of tragedy, but we welcome this broader learning and commitment to creating a wildfire-safe Hawaiʻi. This is a long-game. It will be trying, costly, and require all of us to address all of the elements that need attention. But we will get there, together. And the losses will not be for nothing, but rather lead us to a better future.

Co-Executive Directors Elizabeth Pickett and Nani Baretto

We extend a sincere and heartfelt Mahalo to HWMO’s for their herculean efforts over the last few months, and for their steady and continuing service toward a wildfire-ready and wildfire-resilient Hawaiʻi. Please go to (www.hawaiiwildfire.org) to learn more about their work and to learn about the many ways that you can support their efforts.

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