Mapping Hawai‘i’s Wildfires

Jan 25, 2016

Credit Pacific Fire Exchange

Scientists with the University of Hawai‘i are mapping the human impact of wildfires in the islands.

Over the past decade, the state has experienced on average, more than 1,000 fires burning over 20,000 acres each year.  Relative to total land area, the percentage of Hawai‘i’s land that burned from 2005 to 2011 was roughly equivalent to a fire consuming the western United States.

But unlike fires on the mainland - which are most often caused by lightning…99% of fires in Hawai‘i are caused by human activity. Clay Trauernicht and Creighton Litton are from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management at the UH Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.  His research suggests Hawai‘i’s land-use practices have increased the spread of fire-prone, non-native grasses.

Other risk factors include strong rain shadow effects in the leeward areas and episodic droughts, especially those associated with El Niño events such as are happening now, creating year-round potential for frequent and often destructive wildfires. Not only is there a heightened risk of wildfire, but its potential impacts may be more acute in the Islands, given the small land area, tight linkages between terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and sensitivity of native ecosystems to disturbance.

The wildfire research was recently published in “Pacific Science” which drew on multiple sources to construct a 108-year fire history that demonstrates a more-than-fourfold increase in the area burned annually statewide in recent decades. 

More information can be found at PacificFireExchange.Org.