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AP: Climate contributing to wildfires on tropical Pacific isles

A burned roadside sign says, “Please Prevent Fires, Mahalo,” in Waimea, Hawaii, Aug. 5, 2021. The region of Hawaii’s Big Island was scorched by the state’s largest recorded wildfire. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)

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Hawaii correspondent Caleb Jones and Jakarta, Indonesia, reporter Victoria Milko had an all-formats exclusive on climate-fueled wildfires flaring up on tropical Pacific islands from Hawaii to Micronesia, causing environmental harm from mountaintops to coral reefs. Some islands may burn as much as 10% of their land base annually.

Aware of persistent wildfire problems on some of the Hawaiian Islands and Guam, Jones and Milko wanted to see if there was a broader story — and there was. With climate change making islands hotter and drier, they found that once-lush areas of the islands are suffering wildfires that not only burn land and property, but also have serious ecological impact. Runoff from burned areas damages coral reefs, and the fires are converting critical watershed forests to grasslands that become more prone to fire in the future.

While Milko reported on the situation in Guam,where the top fire official said most fires were arson,Jones traveled to the Big Island of Hawaii which was experiencing the largest wildfire in the state’s history. He shot photos and video of firefighters at work,and gained access to private Native Hawaiian homestead land where homes and vehicles were destroyed on the slopes of Mauna Kea. He interviewed residents and evacuees who spoke about their experiences during the latest fire and their historical perspective on the drier,more volatile land. He also spoke to state fire officials and scientists in Honolulu who explained how invasive fire-prone grasses and climate change contributed to rising numbers of larger wildfires on Pacific islands.

The exclusive package was widely played online, including by the Honolulu Star Advertiser — which broke out a separate photo gallery — as well as major mainland news outlets.

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