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The Wildfires Across Maui

The Wildfires Across Maui

By RZR News Team
Aug 24, 2023

Fast Facts

Analysis

Lahaina, Hawaii: a town surrounded by beauty, steeped in authenticity, crystal clear waters, sandy beaches, and stunning sunsets, a hotspot for tourists looking for a tropical Hawaiian paradise. These were old descriptions of the historical, ocean-front town on the island of Maui. Now, headlines describe a loss of life, culture and the devastating destruction of the once beautiful and prideful town. On August 8, 2023, massive and uncontrolled wildfires seeped through Maui causing widespread damage and destruction to homes, buildings and wildlife and seized more than 89 lives

There are multiple speculations on how and why these fires started, but ultimately no conclusions have been made. Scientists have called the wildfires a “compound disaster” meaning that multiple, individual factors collectively contributed to the onset of the fires; the remaining winds from Hurricane Dora is believed to have caused the fires to fan and spread quickly, traveling heat that hit the southwest mainland is believed to have caused a rise in temperature on the islands, drought and spread of invasive combustible plants are also believed to contributive. However, some scientists maintain that summer wildfires can be a natural phenomenon seen on these islands. 

There were four wildfires raging in Maui, and officials have confirmed 100% containment of the Ka’anapali fire. The remaining three fires are still ongoing in Lahaina with 85% containment, Pulehu/Kihei with 80% containment, and Upcountry Maui with 50% containment. Particularly, the scenes surfacing from Lahaina are utterly devastating and heartbreaking, and reports on damage levels reiterate how heartbreaking the fires have been; an estimated total of 2,719 structures exposed, 2,207 structures damaged or destroyed, and 2,170 acres burned. Furthermore, 86% of buildings exposed to the fire are deemed residential.

The Maui population has mostly been relying on residential and community strength since the start of these fires. One Maui native, Jareth Lumlung, has opened a de facto donation hub. The frustrations of receiving little government aid echo the long-standing sentiment of native Hawaiians who feel the Hawaiian culture, customs and history are not cared for, protected by and respected by the United States government. 

With many highway road closures and limited use of gasoline, aid to Lahaina has been arriving by boat and carrying supplies to help the destroyed town. Generators, clothing, food, water and medical supplies are seen to be met by dozens of native residents in chest-deep waters off the coast. Although the Coast Guard, National Guard and FEMA have been deployed to aid in fire containment and relief aid, many native Hawaiians feel that the actions of the local, state and country governments are inadequate to the scale of aid that is truly needed.  

The National Guard and Coast Guard have primarily been tasked with fire containment which may explain the lack of on-ground relief to the Lahaina community. However, we should ask ourselves; can the guards do more to help our fellow citizens? FEMA, however, is tasked with on-ground relief and recently announced that rescue missions have now shifted to loss-of-life missions. Since the death toll as of Sunday, August 13 has risen to 89, these Maui wildfires have now been the most deadly, and deathly, wildfires in America for the last century.

Scenes of Lahaina citizens jumping off the coast into the ocean below to escape the fires are unfathomably heartbreaking. The Governor has likened the scenes to a war zone. With missing person numbers greater than 1,000, sadly, the death toll is expected to rise. 

Tragedies like this transcend politics; a staggering loss of life and wildlife, history and homes should be met with empathy, aid or donation if possible and prayers that the residents of Lahaina and Maui may one day restore their lives amidst the utter grief these fires have caused. 

If possible, please consider donating to the Maui Wildfire Fund. Thoughts and prayers remain with the citizens of Maui.

– SG

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The death toll rises to 89, as wildfires rage across Hawaii. These fires began on August 8th leaving thousands homeless, powerless, and in desperate need of evacuation. Those who have yet to evacuate are without power. Hawaii governor has described the fires as the largest in Hawaii’s history.

It is speculated by the Guardian that the winds brought by Hurricane Dora, a Category 4 stormed the fire to spread with alarming speed. It was unexpected as Maui’s warning sirens were not activated as the wildfires approached the town of Lahaina. This forced some residents to run into the ocean to escape. So far the Coast Guard has rescued more than a dozen people from the water.

Lahaina was a historic town, established in the 1700s and home to the former Hawaii kingdom. In addition to people, and their belongings, this fire has erased seemingly thousand structures containing crucial Hawaiian history. Through browsing photos, one can see that this historical town is essentially destroyed. 

To make matters worse, this fire does not only threaten Hawaii’s people and its history but also the planet. According to NBC News, even though Hawaii accounts for less than 1% of the U.S.’s land, it contains 44% percent of the country’s endangered and threatened plant life. If these fires are not contained that number will decrease.

The situation in Hawaii is truly a tragedy, and the repercussions of these fires are going to be widespread and catastrophic. Thankfully, there are organizations such as the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and even the U.S. Military, as well as individuals donating their resources, time, and money to the effort. If this trend continues hopefully the fires will be at bay soon.

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The wildfires in Maui have inflicted catastrophic damage on both the island itself and the people living there. In a recent interview, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. compared the devastation to an active warzone and given what we know about the disaster, this comparison does not seem far off. Over 67 people have been confirmed dead thus far and hundreds of others have also gone missing. On August 10, President Joe Biden responded to the crisis by labeling the wildfires a “major disaster,” making it easier for federal funds to be directed towards helping victims of the fire. At the same time other federal agencies including FEMA and the National Guard have also been mobilized to assist with the wildfire response, but providing disaster aid to an island comes with numerous logistical problems that will make the federal government’s job more difficult than normal. 

Satellite images of Maui serve to illustrate how badly the island is being damaged by the flames, but one invisible aspect of this tragedy is the damage done to Hawaiian culture. Much of the devastation caused by the fires has spread to the town of Lahaina, Hawaii’s former capital and an important historical landmark to Native Hawaiians. Native Hawaiians have expressed worries that even if Lahaina is rebuilt, the history contained within the town will be replaced with shops meant to attract tourists.

Then there is also the environmental impact of the fire. Hawaii is home to a rich and unique ecosystem, including a rare, centuries-old Banyan tree which has grown to be over 60 feet tall and is now in danger thanks to the fire. The Maui fires can also have long-term negative effects on the animal and plant life of the island, putting additional stress on the already vulnerable Hawaiian coral reef system.

Wildfires have historically been rare in Hawaii, but a mixture of drought, a recent hurricane, and an invasive grass species all came together to create the conditions that led to this most recent disaster. Climate Change is another factor, yes, but another important piece of the puzzle is how the decline in pineapple farming led to the rise of invasive grass, which is much more susceptible to burning. Many Native American communities used controlled burning to mitigate the destructive impact of wildfires in the past, but these practices have been lost to time thanks to the rise of capitalism, colonialism, and modernity.

Multiple studies have already proven that the United States is not prepared for the incoming climate apocalypse. The financial cost of climate disasters will continue to rise, and there is little political will to take the bold steps necessary to halt future climate disasters, especially among Republicans who continue to deny climate change and whose environmental strategy is to simply try to adapt to the “new normal” of new climate disasters every other week. Last July was the hottest month on record in human history and unless something is done now, things will only continue to get hotter.

– Matthew Kimball

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Sandy beaches and tropical lifestyles are likely things that spring to your mind if I ask one what they think of when they imagine the state of Hawaii. If we narrowed the scope to just Maui, currently, that is likely a different and far sadder story. At the time of this writing, 67 people so far have died from the historical wildfires. 

The evacuation order was issued Friday for Kaanapali residents, which was called because of a fire. Interestingly the threat to public safety was unclear at the time the evacuation was called. When one calls an evacuation it is an inherent right of the evacuees to know why this evacuation is being called for, and why the government is intervening in their lives. 

Furthermore, some Maui wildfire survivors were able to return to their homes and say they did not feel sufficiently warned about the oncoming danger. Maui warning sirens were not activated as the town of Lahaina was being approached by the wildfires. This further added to the struggle to evacuate as Hawaii faced this deadly crisis. 

Hawaii Governor Josh Green has listed updates and ways to support those faced with rebuilding their lives in the wake of the fires. Green says the wildfires will likely go down as the worst natural disaster in the state’s history. This is a powerful statement since Hawaii joined the union less than seventy years ago, back in 1959. 

Green will provide further updates as the fires become more contained, missing people are found, and the state gradually recovers from this tragedy. However it is worth noting, what is the state going to do to protect flora and fauna in the future? How are they going to try and better prepare, if not fully prevent stuff like this from happening again in the state’s future?

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