Hawaii Fire Department saves iconic wiliwili tree

  • The Hawaii County Fire Department extinguishes a roadside fire started close to the Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve earlier this month, where thousands of wiliwili trees are protected. COURTESY PHOTO/JEN LAWSON
    The Hawaii County Fire Department extinguishes a roadside fire started close to the Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve earlier this month, where thousands of wiliwili trees are protected. COURTESY PHOTO/JEN LAWSON

WAIKOLOA VILLAGE — Wiliwili trees of the lowlands of Waikoloa are an important part of the landscape and the village’s identity.

None is more prominent, perhaps, than the wiliwili tree easily visible on Waikoloa Road just before entering the village from makai. Affectionately named “Clifford” by young students of the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative’s Future Foresters program, it greets drivers and cyclists as they enter Waikoloa and salutes them as they leave.

This iconic tree is a reminder of the diverse native dryland forests that once covered the lowlands of North Kona and South Kohala. When there has been a long period of drought, it drops its leaves. When there has been ample rain, the wiliwili displays its triangular green leaves. When flowering, it warns of an increased danger of shark attacks in the oceans as in the Hawaiian proverb “Na pua ka wiliwili nanahu ka mano,” meaning when the wiliwili blooms, the sharks bite.

Last Tuesday, a roadside fire started near Clifford in close proximity to the Waikoloa Dry Forest Preserve where thousands of wiliwili trees are protected. Thanks to the quick response of the Hawaii County Fire Department, the threat to this tree and the adjacent forest preserve was extinguished before any damage to the native trees could occur.

“This small fire, likely caused by a driver throwing out a lit cigarette, could have easily spread in the dry, windy conditions and threatened the remnant wiliwili forest that surrounds Waikoloa Village as well as the homes and businesses nearby,” Jen Lawson said, executive director of Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative. “Wildfires, preventable roadside fires in particular, have become one of the biggest threats to the dryland forest in Hawaii.”

The Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative and their partners, Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, Waikoloa Village Association and the fire department, are working together to prevent, prepare and mitigate the effects of a wildfire, but it takes everyone being mindful of the threat and their actions to prevent roadside wildfires that threaten the ecosystem and community.

“When traveling through dry areas please remember that heat from vehicle exhaust systems can ignite dry grass,” Lawson said. “Park cars on areas that are paved or where vegetation is trimmed and cleared, and please hold onto cigarette butts and dispose of them properly in a receptacle.”

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