By Yena Yun
October 24, 2023
UPDATED 12:00 PM EST
Fires seen on Maui Island on Aug. 8 (from a social media video)
[Photo Credit: cbsnews.com]
In March of 2023, the Canadian wildfires affected the air quality in many parts of the US, and we witnessed our blue skies transform into the orange skies of dystopian movies. Recently, the Hawaiian wildfires have been causing fatalities and destroying homes on the Maui island. Videos of the natural disaster depict smoke-filled air and fires in the distance as residents escape by going into the ocean.
A map of Maui Island shows the location of the fires on Aug. 10
[Photo Credit: cbsnews.com]
As of late August, Maui County Mayor Richard Blission declared 115 fatalities were reported, more than 2,000 buildings were damaged(most residential), a total of 10.4 square miles were scorched, and about 850 people are missing/unaccounted for. The Maui fires are described as one of the deadliest fires in modern U.S. history. Mason Jarvi, a surviving Hawaiian resident from Lahaina, recounts his fearful experience: “We just had the worst disaster I’ve ever seen… It’s like an apocalypse”(theguardian.com). Considering the tremendous impact the fires have had not only on the Hawaiian people but also on the nation, it’s important to investigate how the fires started and spread so fast in order to prevent future devastating natural disasters.
The exact causes of the wildfires have not yet been confirmed. Some say that the deadly wildfires that started on August 8th were caused by a mix of conditions that can create “fire weather”(cbsnews.com). For example, Daniel Swain, a climate scientist claims the fire was just a “classic wildland urban interface fire”, where a vegetation fire, any uncontrolled fire usually started in nature, eventually moved into urban areas(theguardian.com). Before the outbreak of the fire, the National Weather Service also warned that the island would face strong winds and low humidity, which brings a high fire danger and risk of fast spreading. Conversely, the Hawaiian Electric Company(HECO) claimed power lines falling and high winds may have caused a fire in Lahaina, during the early hours of August 8th. This resulted in a lawsuit that the County of Maui filed against HECO, which made HECO mention the morning fire caused by power lines falling had been “100% contained” by the Maui County Fire Department by 9 a.m. Despite the varying discussion about the cause of the initial fire, the “erratic wind, challenging terrain, steep slopes, and dropping humidity” conditions reported by Fire officials on August 8th confirm that once the fire started, it was hard to predict and prevent its spread(cbsnews.com).
Though the Maui people experienced the traumatizing events of fleeing their homes and losing their loved ones, more than 90% of the fires are now contained on the island. Federal agencies are now in the process of removing dangerous ash and debris, which could unfortunately take months. At mauinuistrong.info people can find out how to help the Maui people rebuild and recover.
Chen, Natasha, et al. “Hawaiian Electric Says Power Lines Started Morning Fire on August 8, but Not Afternoon Lahaina Fire | CNN Business.” CNN, Cable News Network, 29 Aug. 2023, www.cnn.com/2023/08/28/business/hawaiian-electric-power-lines-fire/index.html#:~:text=Hawaiian%20Electric%20Company%20said%20that,began%20in%20the%20Lahaina%20area. Accessed 15 Sept. 2023.
“Forest Fire.” UN, www.un-spider.org/category/disaster-type/forest-fire#:~:text=Wildfire%2C%20also%20called%20forest%2C%20bush,e.g.%2C%20wind%2C%20topography). Accessed 15 Sept. 2023.
“Hawaii Wildfires: How Did the Deadly Maui Fire Start and What Caused It?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 10 Aug. 2023, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/aug/09/hawaii-wildfires-maui-explainer. Accessed 15 Sept. 2023.
“How Did the Maui Fire Start? What We Know about the Cause of the Lahaina Blaze.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, www.cbsnews.com/news/how-did-maui-fire-start-cause-lahaina-hawaii-wildfire/. Accessed 15 Sept. 2023.
“The Maui Wildfires Are a Mass Casualty Disaster. People Are Flying in to Find Their Loved Ones.” NBCNews.Com, NBCUniversal News Group, www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/maui-wildfires-are-mass-casualty-disaster-people-are-flying-find-loved-rcna100909. Accessed 15 Sept. 2023.