Maui Wildfires Kill 36 People, Leave Sudden Onslaught of Devastation
Rapidly burning wildfires have spread through the Hawaiian island of Maui, destroying the historic town of Lahaina and killing at least 36 people, leaving many homeless and causing thousands to evacuate.
People were jumping into the Pacific Ocean to avoid the flames and wildfire debris, as strong winds from Hurricane Dora passing to the south, dried out vegetation and low humidity fed the fires, according to the National Weather Service, reported Reuters. The cause of the fires has not been officially determined.
Most roads going into and out of Lahaina — a town that was once the Hawaiian Kingdom capital and attracts millions of tourists each year — were blocked.
The wildfires have left hundreds of families and communities across the island homeless.
“It is not just the loss of the home, but it is the loss of our entire community, our town that we have known it to be for generations. It’s completely devastating. We are shook to our core, and it’s not something that anybody can wrap any thoughts or real emotions around it right now,” Lahaina resident La Phena Davis told CNN.
Dustin Kaleiopu, a Maui resident, relocated to the other end of the island with his family, Reuters reported. They lost two homes and had just minutes to evacuate.
“There are still so many people that we are unable [to] get in touch with, and that still remains true for many families here,” Kaleiopu said in an interview on NBC’s Today show, as reported by Reuters. “Everyone I know is now homeless.”
Hawaiian wildfire expert Clay Trauernicht told The New York Times that most of the pineapple and sugarcane plantations that once dominated Hawaii’s economy have been replaced by grasslands nourished by the state’s heavy rainfall. The arrival of the dry season turns these plentiful grasses into tinder, fueling wildfires.
Each year Hawaii experiences wildfires, but Thomas Smith, an associate professor in environmental geography at the London School of Economics, said this year hotter temperatures, less rainfall and storms have made the fires larger and caused them to spread faster, Reuters reported.
Parts of the mountainous residential area of Kula were also destroyed by the fires, according to officials. Kihei in southern Maui was also experiencing wildfires.
It has been a summer of wildfires triggered by record heat waves across the globe. In Greece, Portugal and Spain, thousands were evacuated and lost their homes, while more than 1,100 wildfires are still burning in Canada.
Extreme weather events like drought, heat waves and wildfires are becoming more frequent and intense as human-caused climate change triggered by the burning of fossil fuels continues to drive up global temperatures.
“There’s likely a climate change signal in everything we see,” said Dr. Abby Frazier, a climatologist at Clark University, according to The New York Times in another report.