Amy Tsuneyoshi
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Condolences go out to those that have lost loved ones and property from the devastating August wildfires. Our thoughts and support continue to be with them as they recover and work to rebuild their communities. While the tragic events are still fresh in everyone’s minds, we should take this time to learn what we, as individuals, can do to prevent and defend against future fires.

‘A‘ali‘i (Dodonaea viscosa) is a native, drought-tolerant shrub that will do well in a fire-safe landscape. (Photo courtesy of Amy Tsuneyoshi)
‘A‘ali‘i (Dodonaea viscosa) is a native, drought-tolerant shrub that will do well in a fire-safe landscape. (Photo courtesy of Amy Tsuneyoshi)

The Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO) is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing education and technical assistance for wildfire efforts in Hawai‘i and the Pacific. Their website provides educational resources to help homeowners learn how to create defensible spaces against wildfire. They also help communities develop wildfire protection plans. If you live within a mile of natural areas or vegetated undeveloped areas, you are in the ember zone when a wildfire occurs. In August 2023, HWMO updated the Ready-Set-Go Wildland Fire Action Guide. The guide provides tips on what you can do around your property based on zones radiating out from your home.

Zone 1: 0 to 30 feet away from the home/structure 

The area immediately surrounding the home (0-5 feet) should be kept clear of flammable material. This zone should be maintained and irrigated with clearance for emergency equipment. If there is landscaping, use non-flammable mulch and plants with high moisture content.

  • Trim back trees that overhang the house.
  • Clean out roof gutters.
  • Remove dead vegetation within 10 feet of house.

Zone 2: 30 to 100 feet from the home/structure 

Plants in this zone should be low-growing and kept well irrigated. If there are trees growing, consider removing grasses and dense shrubby vegetation under the trees, which could carry fire up into the tree canopy.

  • Utilize driveways, gravel walkways and lawns to create ‘fuel breaks’.
  • Prune tree limbs up six to ten feet from the ground.
  • Remove smaller trees growing between taller trees.
  • Clear away dead, woody debris.

When selecting plants for fire prone landscapes, choose plants like succulents that retain moisture and native plants that are adapted to Hawai‘i’s environment and are less likely to ignite. Avoid plants that contain oils or resins (like pine or eucalyptus), or plants that dry out quickly (like non-native grasses) because they are quick to burn allowing the fire to spread rapidly. The Wildland Fire Action Guide contains a list of native plants that are beautiful as well as drought-tolerant. Check out the HWMO link below and download your free copy for tips everyone can use to protect lives and property from wildfire.  It’s not IF a wildfire will happen, it’s WHEN.


Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization (HWMO):



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