Hawaiian Electric donation to Kaala Farm supports wildfire prevention, mitigation in Waianae Kai

$50,000 donation will help implement “shovel-ready” priority projects

Release Date: 10/26/2021

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Waianae Kai

Waianae Kai, Aug. 2021

HONOLULU, Oct. 26, 2021 – Hawaiian Electric has donated $50,000 to Kaala Farm for the Waianae Kai Wildfire Prevention & Mitigation Project in support of community resilience and environmental stewardship in this culturally and ecologically significant area in West Oahu. The project is focused on implementing key land management practices that can prevent the frequency of fires and reduce their intensity and duration, increasing security in the upper valley, as well as improving the ability of firefighters to respond and extinguish fires quickly in the area.

"Waianae has some of the highest wildfire ignition rates in the state due to episodic drought, frequent high winds and the expansion of nonnative grass and shrubs that fuel fires,” said Eric Enos, executive director of Kaala Farm, a cultural and environmental education nonprofit serving the Waianae community since 1976. The farm is situated on 100 acres of land in the back of Waianae Valley and has become an integral part of connecting community members to ancestral knowledge of growing food and managing natural resources.

“Hawaiian Electric’s partnership in helping care for the Waianae moku means “shovel-ready” priority projects – such as clearing vegetation, constructing firebreaks and managing animal grazing – can be implemented in the near-term,” added Enos.

Enos emphasized that nearly all wildfires in Hawaii are started by people whether intentionally or accidentally, and part of Hawaiian Electric’s donation will be used to address this issue. “Ensuring pono access to mauka lands and reducing the potential for fire ignition by adding perimeter fencing and installing a gate in the upper valley will go a long way to inhibit the frequent, deliberate setting of fires by arsonists.”

“While wildfire mitigation is not a primary focus of Kaala Farm, it’s admirable that Eric is spearheading this project and bringing dozens of organizations together in the effort since fire is a risk to the entire West Oahu area,” said Brandi Crabbe, Hawaiian Electric community relations manager.

Enos knows first-hand the devastation a wildfire can wreak after a 2018 blaze in the vicinity of Kaala Farm scorched 9,000 acres in Waianae and Makaha. The blaze, caused by unknown persons, trapped Enos, his staff and a school group for several hours behind walls of flames and rising black smoke whipped by high winds.

Eventually, everyone was evacuated by buses on a smoldering blackened road. No lives were lost in that fire but valuable agricultural lands were ruined. Enos realized that climate change would only exacerbate dry conditions in the Waianae moku, prompting the wildfire prevention and mitigation project.

In 2020, Enos joined with community leaders, state agencies, Hawaiian Electric and other stakeholders to form a wildfire mitigation hui that has been meeting monthly to collaborate on efforts in Waianae. Members also include the Waianae Agricultural Park farmers, Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources, University of Hawaii and state Department of Education. Other partners working on the Waianae Kai project include the Waianae Mountain Watershed Partnership and the Health & Wellness Alliance.

In the future, Enos envisions the construction of a water tank, pond or reservoir to provide water for firefighting helicopters, installation of fire hydrants and pressurized waterlines at strategic locations and a sprinkler system to irrigate vegetative fire breaks, among other projects that will help first responders extinguish wildfires. A partial grant from the state is helping but not enough to cover the requested $1 million that Enos applied for in 2019 to implement these projects.

To learn more about Kaala Farm or to donate to the Waianae Kai Wildfire Prevention & Mitigation Project, please call (808) 696-4954.