Since the Aug. 8 wildfires on Maui, Jake Kane has gotten calls from homeowners wanting to cut down all the trees around their houses.
But Kane, the owner of Kane’s Legacy Tree Services and one of the experts involved in the Lahaina tree recovery efforts, doesn’t recommend it. He says the fire destroyed 20,000 or more trees, and “we need all the trees we can get right now just to keep our environment healthy.”
“Trees are great filters,” Kane said in a news release Wednesday. “Properly maintained trees in the right spots don’t pose a fire hazard. A lot of the trees that burned, caught fire because the house was on fire. Trees are not necessarily entry points for fire to your home.”
Kane and other landscaping experts are encouraging residents across the state to retain healthy trees around their homes, especially native varieties, which can help enhance environmental health and help mitigate fire risk, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said in a news release.
The department said that social media posts after the fire have fueled the notion that trees should be chopped down.
“We’ve been able to sway some people and the others we tell we’re not interested in removing non-hazardous trees,” Kane said. “If it’s the wrong tree in the wrong spot, absolutely. Always replace with the right tree in the right spot.”
Kane’s company lost its entire 2-acre baseyard on the corner of the Lahaina Bypass and Hokiokio Street in the fire, as well as seven trucks, three chippers, two trailers, a backhoe, a skid steer, a tractor and a tub grinder. An employee living on the property escaped with just the shirt on his back. The fire also ignited the piles of mulch that Kane uses in his work. He watched the mulch smolder and smoke for three days as Maui County firefighters poured thousands of gallons of water on the stubborn, burning layers.
Duane Sparkman, who is coordinating the Lahaina Treescape Restoration Project, said in the wake of the fire, “a lot of folks are getting very reactive right now.”
“They’re going and cutting down trees thinking that trees will burn their house,” Sparkman explained in the news release. “What we’re finding is the house burned the tree. We’re trying to get people to understand to keep your trees big, maintain the shade load, keep moisture on it, and clean the dry stuff off the ground, like leaf piles.”
To help prevent trees from catching fire, Sparkman recommends a concept known as “fire laddering,” which involved removing material that grows on a tree from the ground up to the canopy. This creates a nice, big shade layer and there’s no place for embers to land and ignite up the tree, or “climbing the ladder.”
The group working to save and restore Lahaina’s urban forest is focusing on native trees, which are typically more fire-resistant than introduced species, DLNR said.
“To be honest, if we can change a town’s heat load, change the humidity factor with the presence of healthy, viable trees, we can prevent fires, or at least slow down their movement,” Sparkman said. “That’s the future we’re all aiming for.”
A tree that survived in the fire in Lahaina is watered down on Sept. 29 by Ua Aloha Maji of Kipuka Olowalu. Photo courtesy DLNR
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