(BIVN) – Continued severe drought conditions are increasing the risk of wildfires on Hawaiʻi.
At Wednesday’s Hawaii County Council meeting held in Kona, a resolution was passed strongly urging the mayor to increase funding and capacity for the Hawaiʻi Fire Department to proactively mitigate potential wildfire impacts.
Puna councilmember Ashley Kierkiewicz made an amendment to the measure concerning an assessment of the island’s volunteer fire department.
The amendment was brought forward after community concerns were expressed about the language in the original resolution. A number of residents in Discovery Harbor submitted written testimony.
“I have been talking with some of our neighbors, and there is concern about the future of our volunteer fire department,” wrote Babette Morrow. “We are concerned that any proposed assessment of the volunteer fire department’s effectiveness
must take into account the fact that we are very rural here and without that department our property values would be lower due to the increased risk. Just last year there was a fire in the undeveloped areas of the golf course in Discovery Harbour that came dangerously close to many homes. Without the volunteers providing assistance, that fire could have been a very real disaster.”
Councilmember Kierkiewicz addressed the concerns on Wednesday, saying that her amendment “is in response to some community members who called, a little concerned.”
Kierkiewicz said she is not trying to get rid of the volunteer program. “But we really need to do a strategic assessment about what the most appropriate role is,” the Puna councilmember said. “There was a very recent situation where a volunteer did get hurt, and now the county is having to face a lawsuit because of that. So, in order to make sure that we are mitigating risks and liabilities, we just have to make sure what the appropriate role is for our volunteers. And if it’s something that we’re going to commit to, we cannot commit to things halfway. Whatever we do, we have to do it 100%. And we have to make sure that there are plans in place.”
“This amendment was done in partnership with councilmember Galimba’s office. She has a number of volunteer stations in her community. But it just elevates the fact that there are roles that our volunteers can play. I think, really, one of the most helpful things they can do is to be out there advocating for fire risk education and community preparedness. The more that we can do on the prevention side, the better prepared we are going to be.”