Maui, Hawaii

Mixing Mottos, Mitigating Wildfires, and Building Disaster Preparedness in Hawaiʻi

Thomas Brown

When Team Rubicon Greyshirts spend two weeks at a Scout camp in Maui, they get stuff done—and find one of their own.

Nestled against the cool windward slopes of the Hawaiian island of Maui sits Camp Maluhia. A former USO and Civilian Conservation Corps recruitment office facility, Camp Maluhia was refurbished into a Scout camp in the 1930s. With its magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean, Maluhia—which means “peacefulness” in Hawaiian—is among the most popular wilderness facilities on Maui.

As the largest Scout camp in the state, Camp Maluhia has not only been a favorite destination for generations of Scouts, school groups, and nonprofits but has also provided sanctuary for countless Hawaiians. Including in the wake of the tragic fires that struck Maui in 2023, when Camp Maluhia opened its doors to aid workers and those displaced by the fire, and the Maui Scout troop helped distribute relief supplies.

But for all the refuge it offers, Maluhia has also been beset by invasive species and overgrown vegetation which pose a fire hazard to the camp and the surrounding community—a dangerous situation mirrored across Maui and a root cause of that year’s devastating wildfires.

To help alleviate some of those dangers, in March of 2024, Team Rubicon held a Disaster Training Camp, or DTC, at Camp Maluhia, bringing chainsaw operators to mitigate future wildfires, training new sawyers and heavy equipment operators to bolster local capacity, and helping the Scout camp “Be Prepared” better than ever before.

A composite event composed of several specific trainings and proficiency assessments, the Hawaiʻi DTC was two weeks of capacity-building held in an operational-type environment. At Camp Maluhia, a wildfire mitigation operation was used to develop skills, build confidence, and bolster local capabilities as they help a community boost its resilience. Volunteer instructors sharpen their teaching skills at the DTC while guiding their fellow Greyshirts to safely conduct tree work, debris removal, and expedient repairs. It even turned the camp caretaker into a trained Greyshirt volunteer.

A Tangled History, and a Catastrophe in the Making

Sugar plantations were once the core of the Hawaiian economy, and while they have been shuttered for years or decades, their effects linger today. So much so that they played a massive and pernicious role in the horrific wildfires that devastated large sections of the island in 2023. Much of Maui’s native topography was changed in the plantation era of more than a century ago. Ponds and streams and other bodies of water that would have once served as natural firebreaks had been diverted or drained in order to serve the plantations. Left behind were large swaths of invasive grasses and unmaintained and tinder-dry lands—prime fuel for wildfires.

While the Maui wildfire disaster was sparked by strong winds from Hurricane Dora, which passed to the south of the islands in August of ’23, damaging above-ground utilities, the catastrophe was fueled by a dried-out landscape that had been razed of its biodiversity to make room for sugar and is now stocked with invasive plant species.

That’s why when Greyshirts arrived with their own motto—Get $hit Done—for the two-week-long DTC at Camp Maluhia, they found plenty of examples of invasive plants that need to be removed. They also found countless opportunities to conduct mitigation work and ways to restore the natural landscape and protect the community against future wildfires. And, they found the chance to help train up more chainsawers, including an unexpected one: Camp Maluhia’s Caretaker, Leif Adachi.

A Greyshirt is Born

Originally from the island of Molokaʻi, Adachi has lived on Maui for 30 years, serving as a police officer for 26 of those. Upon retiring from the force, he joined Camp Maluhia as a groundskeeper and is now camp caretaker. His role there is a continuation of a family legacy of sorts as his great-uncle ran the camp many years ago. While Adachi was never a Scout, his father was, and so are three of his five sons.

A retired police officer, born and raised in Hawai’i and of Japanese-Caucasian heritage—his Norwegian-sounding first name stems from an Air Force friend of his veteran father—Adachi has deep ties to the land and community. He was initially skeptical of Team Rubicon: many groups from outside the islands had offered their help before, but didn’t deliver what they promised, behaved disrespectfully, or even ended up doing more harm than good. The Greyshirts were different, he noticed: trained, positive, and ready to listen.

Leid Adachi and another volunteer at Hawaiʻi Disaster Preparedness training camp
Leid Adachi gives the shaka sign during the Hawaiʻi disaster preparedness training camp.

“The Team Rubicon guys were serious,” Adachi says, “well-organized with good hearts.”

This impressed him. And the chainsaw training they were providing at the DTC—training that comported with Scouting standards—intrigued him.

“I initially signed up as a Greyshirt just for the chainsaw training,” admits Adachi. “I still didn’t know anything about the organization.” As the week progressed, the intentions and competence of the Greyshirt volunteers at his camp became clearer, which enticed him.

Hawaiʻi Disaster Preparedness Training Eliminates Feelings of Helplessness

“It became something I can do; something I want to do,” reflects the Caretaker Adachi.

And so, he did—and was joined by 52 other volunteers from around the Hawaiian Islands and even from the mainland, who also wanted to. They spent two weeks together at Camp Maluhia, felling trees and bucking limbs, removing debris and invasive species, as well as beautification and repair work around the facility. They chipped the branches and tree limbs, gathering them into nine large piles for Adachi to sell to the community. Tree trunks were chopped into long sections of 10 to 20 feet for sale or to be used for seating at the Camp range or chapel. The mitigation efforts will go a long way towards protecting the camp and minimizing damage to it should another wildfire occur.

“In total, Team Rubicon saved the [Maui County Scouting] Council about $80,000 in tree cutting and disposal service work,” says Adachi. “They were able to remove four large pine trees that posed a hazard to buildings. In addition, numerous invasive African Tulip, Strawberry Guava, Malabar Chestnut, and Schefflera trees were cut.”

Meanwhile, Adachi earned both his grey shirt and his Saw 1 proficiency. Now, as a Hawaiian and as a Greyshirt, he is eager to put his saw skills to use—and to draw more locals into Team Rubicon.

“I have five sons,” he laughs. “It starts at home!” In all actuality, within the first couple of days of the volunteers’ arrival, Adachi was already speaking to friends and family, encouraging them to see what this Greyshirt-thing was all about.

Pervasive around the island after the fires, said Adachi, was a feeling of the helplessness of not being able to help. In earning his shirt, getting his certification, and watching some of his fellow Islanders develop wildfire mitigation skills, that feeling of helplessness has also been mitigated in him.

“Having local people, that will understand our culture and know the community, that will have skills to help, can make a big difference long term.”

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