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  • Writer's pictureTim Spears

Hawaii Increasing Penalties for Fire Code Violations



In reporting from Brian Perry with MauiNow.com, in the aftermath of the devastating Maui wildfires in August 2023, the Hawaii State Legislature has taken action to mitigate future fire risks. House Bill 1842, awaiting the signature of Governor Josh Green, aims to significantly increase the penalties for fire code violations. This bill, if enacted, would increase fines from $500 to $2,500 per day and escalate criminal penalties for fourth-degree arson during red flag warnings to a Class C felony (Hawaii State Legislature, 2024; Perry, 2024). These measures underscore the importance of fire prevention and community risk reduction strategies in Hawaii.


House Bill 1842 is a legislative response to the growing wildfire crisis in Hawaii. The bill proposes to increase monetary fines for violations of state fire protection laws and escalate criminal penalties for arson committed during red flag warnings. The legislation is part of a broader effort to enhance compliance with fire safety regulations and reduce wildfire risks.


The bill increases fines for fire code violations from $500 to $2,500 per day. Each day a violation continues will constitute a separate offense, significantly raising potential costs for non-compliance. Additionally, fourth-degree arson committed during red flag warnings will be classified as a Class C felony, carrying more severe criminal penalties (Hawaii State Legislature, 2024; Perry, 2024).


The legislation applies statewide in Hawaii, targeting areas with high wildfire risks, particularly those with overgrown vegetation and flammable materials. The focus is on encouraging property owners to maintain fire-safe conditions and comply with fire safety orders issued by county fire chiefs.


The increase in penalties is driven by the need to improve compliance with fire codes and reduce the risk of wildfires. By imposing stricter penalties, the legislature aims to motivate property owners to take fire safety seriously and invest in necessary mitigation actions (Hawaii State Legislature, 2024; Perry, 2024).


Enforcement: A Key Component of Fire Prevention and Community Risk Reduction


Enforcement of fire safety regulations is an important component to fire prevention and community risk reduction. The “Five E’s” of Community Risk Reduction include Education, Engineering, Enforcement, Economic Incentives, and Emergency Response (Vision 20/20, 2023). Enforcement, through legislative measures like HB 1842, ensures that fire safety regulations are followed and that there are consequences for non-compliance. This approach not only penalizes violators but also serves as a deterrent to prevent future violations.


The Hazards of Unabated Vegetation


Unabated vegetation poses a significant fire risk. Overgrown grasses and shrubs can act as fuel for wildfires, rapidly spreading fire and increasing its intensity. The wildfires in Hawaii have shown how unmanaged vegetation can lead to catastrophic consequences, including the destruction of homes and critical habitats. Regular maintenance and clearing of flammable vegetation are essential to mitigate this risk (Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, 2023; Perry, 2024).


Implementing HB 1842 is not just about punitive measures; it’s about fostering a culture of compliance and proactive fire prevention. Communities need to understand the importance of adhering to fire safety regulations to protect lives and property. Public education campaigns will play a crucial role in raising awareness and ensuring that residents and property owners are informed about their responsibilities and the potential consequences of non-compliance (Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, 2023; Perry, 2024).


The Importance of Building and Fire Safety


Investing in fire prevention measures and adhering to fire safety regulations is vital for community resilience. This includes regular maintenance of vegetation, using fire-resistant building materials, and ensuring emergency evacuation routes. These actions can significantly reduce the risk of wildfires and protect communities from their devastating effects (Vision 20/20, 2023; Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, 2023).


List: Key Takeaways from House Bill 1842


  1. Increased Fines: Daily fines for fire code violations increased from $500 to $2,500.

  2. Cumulative Penalties: Each day a violation continues is treated as a separate offense.

  3. Stricter Criminal Penalties: Fourth-degree arson during red flag warnings reclassified as a Class C felony.

  4. Focus on Compliance: Enhanced penalties aimed at improving adherence to fire safety regulations.

  5. Community Engagement: Public education campaigns to inform and engage residents and property owners.


References


Hawaii State Legislature. (2024). House Bill 1842 SD1. Retrieved from https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/sessions/session2024/bills/HB1842_SD1_.HTM


Perry, B. (2024, June 18). Legislation hiking fines for fire safety violations awaits action by Gov. Green. Maui Now. Retrieved from https://mauinow.com/2024/06/18/legislation-hiking-fines-for-fire-safety-violations-awaits-action-by-gov-green/


Vision 20/20. (2023). Strategies & Tactics: Community Risk Reduction Planning. Retrieved from https://riskreduction.strategicfire.org/develop-mitigation-strategies-tactics/strategies-tactics/


Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization. (2023). Wildfire Prevention Working Group Draft Report. Retrieved from https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/CommitteeFiles/Special/WFPWG/Documents/WFPWG%20Draft%20Report.pdf

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