The leeward areas of all Hawaiian Islands will be under a Red Flag Warning on Sunday. On the island of Oʻahu, a wildfire has already been burning for about 1 week. The Honolulu Fire Department says the Mililani Mauka fire has burned about 1,300 acres in a remote mountain area. There are no big fires on the island of Hawaiʻi at this point in time, but emergency officials are going to be on high alert.
The National Weather Service has replaced the Fire Weather Watch for the leeward areas of Hawaiʻi with a Red Flag Warning, which will be in effect from late Sunday morning through Monday afternoon. Forecasters say strong trade winds and low relative humidity will combine with dry fuels to bring the potential for critical fire weather conditions during this time.
Hawaiʻi County’s Emergency Operations Center will be activated throughout the duration of the event. Here is the civil defense radio message that was sent out on Saturday afternoon.
HCCD radio message: “Due to the Red Flag Warning the following emergency rules rules will be implemented. From 12 a.m. on Sunday, November 5th, through 6 a.m. Tuesday, November 7th, all outdoor burning and outdoor open flames are banned in the districts of North and South Kohala, North and South Kona, and Kaʻū. Please help protect our families and community by following these simple rules to get us through this fire danger period. You’ll be notified of any changes that affect your safety. This is your Hawaiʻi County Civil Defense Agency.”
Just in time of the Red Flag Warning, the Hawaiian Electric company has announced it is implementing new and expanded practices to further reduce the risk of wildfires, following the unprecedented devastation of the August fires on Maui.
Hawaiian Electric faced questioning before Congress on its role in the disaster and its policies in preparation for Red Flag Warnings.
Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chair: “What was the decision-making process not to de-energize or turn the power off on these lines during that critical period?”
Shelee Kimura, President & CEO, Hawaiian Electric: “In 2019, our team started developing a wildfire mitigation plan and based on what they had learned of the plans in California, including their preemptive shut off programs. They determined…”
Rep. Griffith: “That would be the PSPS.”
Kimura: “Yes. That that wasn’t the appropriate fit for Hawaiʻi. Hawaiʻi is very unique, and through that process, that’s the determination that was made. And we had other protocols in place when there’s high winds so when you’re asking why didn’t we shut off the power, that is not our protocol to do that.”
Rep. Griffith: “Going forward, are you reexamining that? Are you looking at doing the Public Safety Power Shut-off programs? Are you looking at that now and are you reexamining your protocols, because they didn’t work.”
Kimura: “We are absolutely reexamining our protocols.”
Hawaiian Electric is now presenting a three-phase strategy, starting with immediate actions, like deploying spotters to strategic locations in risk areas to watch for ignition during Red Flag Warning days. Also, if a fault or disturbance is detected on a circuit, power lines in risk areas will shut off automatically until crews visually confirm that it is safe to restore power. The company says this may result in longer outages in some areas, including outages that last overnight.
Hawaiian Electric says it has also started discussions on a public safety power shut off program which would cut off the power in certain areas before extreme weather events. The utility says such a program would require extensive coordination across all levels of government and community, and could become a tool of last resort, as opposed to a first option.