Brush-fire count surpasses 200 on Oahu and forecasters say it will likely get worse

Firefighters are dealing with a busy brush fire season this year.

New numbers from the Honolulu Fire Department reveal crews responded to 203 brush fires in the past six months, compared to 312 for all of last year.

This year’s fires burned a total of 1,666 acres, compared to 2,005 acres in 2015.

That includes 2,500 acres that burned in a massive brush fire in Nanakuli in March. Steep, inaccessible terrain and windy conditions made the battle tough.

The totals do not factor in the three fires that broke out this weekend near Farrington Highway, which remain under investigation. They were all relatively small and possibly intentionally set, fire officials said.

Monday may be the first day of summer, but Hawaii is in the middle of a dry season that runs from April through October.

2016

Fires total: 203
Acreage total: 1,666
Intentionally set: 6
Intentionally set acreage: <1
Undetermined cause: 169
Undetermined acreage: 1,664

2015

Fires total: 312
Acreage total: 2,005
Intentionally set: 10
Intentionally set acreage: 1
Undetermined cause: 265
Undetermined acreage: 1,962

Statistics provided by the Honolulu Fire Department

During the dry season, most of the rain we see comes from trade showers and doesn’t make it to the leeward sides much, so drought is a big concern.

“Once you get into the summertime, you usually don’t get a lot of rainfall. Those hot, dry conditions help make the drought worse and that’s what we’re expecting heading into the summer and that will contribute to the fire activity,” said Derek Wroe, a senior forecaster at the National Weather Service.

Right now, there is drought for the leeward sides of every island.

While increased rainfall last month is helping to ease drought conditions, the danger of fires is still going to be high for the rest of the summer.

“Typically, we don’t see a lot of rainfall across the leeward areas in the summertime so what we rely on is the rainfall that we see during the wet season and the wet season was very dry for the leeward areas,” Wroe said.

Storm systems could reverse the drought, but there are none at the moment.

The forecast for the season is to have below-normal rain into July with near-normal rain starting in August.

If this trend continues, there may be more red flag warning days, which means there is a combination of dry ground and strong winds.

Both are possibilities every summer until the wet season begins again in October.

It could be similar to what happened in 1998.

“That went on to be a very active fire season, so there are a lot of similarities we see here with 1998,” Wroe said. “We had early activity, sort of a downward trend as we head into late spring, but we still expect the summertime to be very dry and expect to be quite active once we get into the deep end of summer.”

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