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.
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.