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The Kohala By The Sea (KBTS) Firewise Committee on Hawaii's Big Island honored the Firewise Communities Hawaii coordinator with a special plaque on May 17 in Hilo, Hawaii. Denise Laitinen was honored for her 12 years of service to the community and tireless efforts to promote wildfire safety throughout Hawaii. 

Located along the northwest coast of Hawaii Island, in 2014 Kohala By The Sea became one of only 34 communities in the entire country to maintain its national Firewise recognition for more than a decade. In her role as the Hawaii Firewise Coordinator, Denise provided area residents with Firewise educational materials, taught workshops on creating defensible space, and helped the community identify and implement wildfire prevention projects throughout the community. New property owners within this subdivision are given Firewise construction checklists and building videos when they submit plans to build in the community. In addition to several neighborhood wide mitigation projects such as removing flammable vegetation from a gully, the neighbors work together to ensure their homes have defensible space. 

As part of their efforts for this year's national Wildfire Community Preparedness Day on May 2, the KBTS Firewise committee did an assessment to determine all homes in the neighborhood had visible house numbers, in order to ensure that first responders can find residents in case of emergency. The KBTS is continuing this effort in conjunction with the Hawaii Fire Dept.  Hawaii2015PrepDay

Collaborating with national and state agencies, Denise Laitinen became the first statewide Firewise Communities coordinator in the country more than 12 years ago. Prior to the statewide position, Firewise efforts were implemented at a national level. At a statewide level, Denise has worked closely with communities from Hanalei on Kauai to Ka'u on the Big Island. As Hawaii's first and only Firewise Communities state coordinator, she has served as a role model for other states where similar positions and programs have been implemented. In recognition other trailblazing efforts in wildfire prevention, Denise was nominated as Hawaii County Woman of the Year and to the Hawaii County Women Hall of Fame in 2009. 



Top photo, left to right: Harold Mayo, Jane Mayo (current KBTS Firewise Committee President), Denise Laitinen, Diana Bonnici, past KBTS Firewise Committee President, and Andy Bonnici. 

Wildfire cover photo NFPA Journal May15 WildfireWatch columnThe May/June NFPA Journal is out and in its latest WildfireWatch column, I reflect on the ongoing debate surrounding the role insurance companies should play in wildfire loss reduction. 

For some backstory, I’ve listened for years to proposals for what insurance companies should be doing to address residential wildfire risk, but often hear little about what they are doing to create positive change.  NFPA, through its Firewise Communities/USA Program® and National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day to name two examples, is working with forward-thinking insurance companies and highlighting positive local change.

I explain what is being done and explore the focus we should all see insurance through when looking at the common threat of residential fire in the wildland-urban interface. 

As we take action to clean up around the homestead after a long winter, let us think about how we can create a Firewise home and landscape, not only focusing on the vegetation surrounding our home, but also the “human treasure” that we simply cannot seem to get rid of.  We all know that someday we

Burning Tires
Tires burning image on Linked in

might need these items.  Many of these treasures, such as old tires, leftover wood, sofas and other furniture items and papers can contribute to debris piles often located in close proximity to the home. This creates a scenario where we have put kindling around the home that will make it easier to ignite if there is a wildfire.  Make sure the items that you are storing do have value.  Hoarding items outside can be just as hazardous as hoarding excess items inside.  The NFPA offers some great resources to help fire service professionals and others with these potentially hazardous conditions. If you choose to keep these items, do not store them next to the home or under the deck, rather put them in the garage or in an enclosed shed.

Even such things as open garbage cans under the eaves, flammable attachments such as trellises with dead vines, coco or rattan door mats, and patio cushions can create hazardous conditions for a home during a wildfire event.   Make sure that your garbage cans have lids and are not located under the eaves of your home. Use nonflammable attachments and remove all dead vegetation away from your home.  If you are going to be away from your home, take door mats and patio cushions inside.

Create a healthy and Firewise homestead this year as you do your spring cleaning so that you can have “A Year of Living Less Dangerously from Wildfire”.

Trashy House 1
Image from Becu website trashy yards
Trashy house 2
Image from Becu website trashy yards

Don't let your home look like this!  Piles of "human treasures"  located in close proximity to a home can act like kindling to a campfire.

Fire breakThe May issue of Fire Break, NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division newsletter, is now available for viewing. Here’s what you’ll find in this month’s issue:

  • Highlights of Preparedness Day, including a personal message from President Obama and a photo album that captures the spirit of the day’s events
  • Recommendations about which mulch is safest to use around homes in high risk wildfire areas
  • A link to the Research Foundation’s latest report on WUI fire spread
  • A video that demonstrates the power of burning embers on roofs …

...and much more. We want to continue to share all of this great information with you, so don’t miss an issue! So subscribe today. It’s free! Just click here to add your e-mail address to our newsletter list.

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