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Kohala by the Sea, Hawaii

Kohala by the Sea (KBTS) has not always been a Firewise community. However, with the commitment and hard work of residents and owners it has achieved national recognition as part of the Firewise Communities USA program for seven years in a row.

Kohala by the Sea, HawaiiThe success of KBTS began in 2004 with the active reduction in wild land fire risk. KBTS is a 77 acre developed gated community situated approximately 32 north of Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. KBTS has underground utilities, paved roads, hydrants, and generous setbacks. Of the 73 home sites more than half have been constructed. The general topography is a gentle slope of 9 percent. However, there is a large gulch that runs through the middle of the community. This gulch is a significant fire hazard when it becomes overgrown with keawe trees and haole koa brush. Keawe trees burn hot and are known firebrand carriers.

With less than 10 inches of annual rainfall, KBTS sits in a very high fire-risk area. Flammable vegetation within the community is a primary concern. The KBTS community is surrounded by thousands of acres of intermixed bunchgrass, which produces fast moving and intense fire conditions.  In October 1993, a wildfire destroyed six structures in the subdivision adjacent to KBTS. Since 2004 the community association has strict design rules that require homebuilders to use fire-resistant roof material, landscaping of at least 20 percent of their lots, and encourages the use of stucco and other fire-resistant building material.  

The KBTS community formed a Firewise Committee as part of the five steps to becoming a Firewise community. Residents attended a Firewise workshop on January 17, 2004. As part of the Firewise Committee’s public education campaign, it mailed or hand delivered information kits containing brochures, checklists, and local newspaper articles to every landowner in KBTS. Firewise videos were distributed throughout the community by the Firewise Committee and owners submitting plans to build were provided a construction checklist and the “How to Build a Firewise Home” video. Other steps completed to become Firewise included conducting a wildfire hazard assessment in order to determine the community’s wildfire risk. This is performed semi-annually in conjunction with Denise Laitinen, statewide coordinator for Firewise Communities, who also conducts Firewise Certification and Training for the KBTS community.

The work to remain Firewise compliant is an ongoing commitment by the community and each year new Firewise Committee plans are drafted and acted upon. These have included development of emergency evacuation plans with construction of an alternate emergency egress gate, scheduling twice a year Firewise workdays, which in 2008 drew over 150 hours of volunteer services, and annual demonstrations by Hawaii County fire fighters. Additionally, a grant application was successful in obtaining matching funds for identified Firewise projects ending in June 2011.

Homeowners and landowners in KBTS have invested time, energy and hard earned money into Firewise projects. Residence have purchased, at their own expense, fire fighting equipment such as hoses, fireproof storage lockers, and gas powered swimming pool pumps. The community donates tools and equipment ranging from chainsaws to trucks to projects throughout the year. The community is proud of the national Firewise recognition and the personal commitment by each member of the KBTS community to protect their home from wildfires.