Red flag warning posted for leeward areas

A red flag warning has been posted for leeward areas of the Big Island due to the threat of extreme fire conditions.

Gusty winds in combination with dry fuels and low relative humidity levels will cause elevated fire danger through this afternoon. Any fires that develop will spread rapidly and be difficult to control, the National Weather Service said Thursday. East to northeast tradewinds of 20 mph with locally higher gusts reaching 40 mph are forecast through 6 p.m. today. Humidity is forecast to be around 35% to 45% during the afternoon hours.

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“Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly,” forecasters cautioned. “Outdoor burning is not recommended.”

According to the National Weather Service, despite passage remnant moisture from former-Hurricane Linda, a large swath of the Big Island remained dry as of Thursday. Severe drought, or the D2 category, covered portions of the South Kohala, North Kona, and Hamakua districts and a small area near South Point. Moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions were also impacting areas interior areas.

“The portion of the South Kohala District burned by the record-breaking brush fire in late July and early August has not been able to recover due to the lack of rain. The lack of grasses in the area is resulting in substantial top soil erosion due to periodic strong winds,” said Senior Hydrologist Kevin Kodama in his drought statement issued Sept. 9.

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With the exception of the Kona slopes of the Big Island, leeward areas of the state are expected to have a continuation of drought conditions into mid-fall 2021 due to the probabilities favoring below normal rainfall. Windward areas may have sufficient rainfall to mitigate the development of significant drought conditions.

A red flag warning means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now or will shortly. A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity, and warm temperatures can contribute to extreme fire behavior.