Moore-Merrell highlights increasing fire risks and strain on Hawaii firefighters

November 21, 2023

Fire survival plans critical as risks escalate in Hawaii

A top federal fire official has issued a stark warning about the increasing strain on Hawaii’s firefighters and the escalating fire risks in the state.

US Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell emphasized the urgent need for residents to develop fire survival plans as Hawaii faces new dangers due to drought, climate change, and other environmental factors.

Hawaii’s firefighting force under tremendous strain

Moore-Merrell, in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, highlighted the shortage of firefighters and the fundamentally changed baseline risk for Hawaii.

“There are not enough firefighters, we’ve already established that,” she stated.

The Fire Administrator warned that the existing firefighting force is under tremendous strain, emphasizing the importance of residents knowing how to make themselves “saveable” until help arrives.

Moore-Merrell’s visit and discussions with local fire crews

During her visit to Hawaii, Moore-Merrell met with local and federal officials, as well as firefighters who responded to the devastating Maui fires in August.

She discussed various challenges, including those faced during small fires and the aftermath of the tragic blaze in Lahaina.

Moore-Merrell also addressed the testing of new smoke and fire heat sensors on Kauai, which have shown promising results.

Challenges of lithium ion battery technology in fire cleanup

A significant part of Moore-Merrell’s briefing in Lahaina focused on the challenges posed by lithium-ion batteries found in the burn zone.

These batteries, used in electric vehicles, hybrids, and home solar panel systems, present new problems for debris removal and cleanup, as many remain charged even after a fire.

Moore-Merrell noted the lack of a national protocol for handling such situations, underscoring the need for learning and developing new strategies.

Economic and housing challenges exacerbating fire risks

In discussions with local firefighters, economic and housing challenges in Hawaii were identified as factors contributing to unique fire dangers.

The affordable housing crisis has led to crowded living conditions, heightening the risk of fire incidents.

Moore-Merrell also cautioned against relaxing building codes in the reconstruction of Lahaina, stressing the importance of adhering to science-based codes for safety and prevention.

FSJA Comment

The recent warnings and observations by U.S. Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell underscore a critical juncture for Hawaii in terms of fire safety and preparedness.

The combination of environmental changes, resource constraints, and emerging technological challenges highlights a complex and evolving landscape of fire risks.

Moore-Merrell’s focus on proactive community engagement, improved building codes, and the integration of new technologies like early detection sensors reflects a comprehensive approach to mitigating these risks.

Her visit and the discussions with local fire crews not only bring attention to the immediate challenges but also pave the way for more robust and effective strategies in managing and preventing fire incidents in Hawaii.

This proactive and multi-faceted approach is vital for ensuring the safety and resilience of Hawaiian communities in the face of increasing fire threats.

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