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The Maui Wildfires: Deadliest in Hawaiian History and How to Help

Navily Zhen




As of August 18th, 99 people have died due to the Maui Wildfires, making the fire among the worst natural disasters in Hawaii’s history, and the nation’s deadliest wildfire since 1918. Due to human-induced climate change, extreme wildfires are expected to increase in number and size.

Background

  • Experts believe the fires ignited due to active power lines that fell in high winds, which spread to Lahaina with 13,000 residents.

  • As of May 23, 2023, none of Maui was unusually dry. However, by the first week of August, about 83% of the island was either abnormally dry or in moderate or severe drought.

  • Maui is now facing a flash drought and has been under a red flag alert, meaning that warm temperatures, low humidities, and stronger winds have combined to produce an increased risk of dangerous fires.


Climate Change

  • Climate change has made flash droughts more common as vegetation dries out while temperatures increase.

  • In Maui, the wet season causes invasive plants to grow more rapidly, reaching up to 10 feet tall. As the season shifts to drier conditions with hotter temperatures, these plants can then become a source of wildfires.

  • Climate change also intensifies fires as it increases the likelihood of stronger hurricanes, resulting in stronger winds that help fuel extreme wildfires.

  • Wildfires were once uncommon in Hawaii, mainly being ignited through volcanic eruptions or lightning strikes. However, human activity has made them more common and extreme in recent years.


Lahaina

  • Lahaina was once the royal capital of Hawaii. It is known as a place to reflect on centuries of Hawaiian history just by walking around–before the fires.

  • The fire in Lahaina damaged more than 2,200 structures — the vast majority of which were residential — and burned 2,170 acres of land.


Resources

At least 2,207 structures were estimated to have been damaged or destroyed in the wildfires, which would cost $5.5 billion to rebuild.

Here are organizations collecting donations for those in Maui who were displaced by these devastating fires:

  1. The Maui Mutual Aid Fund is supporting Maui residents, people with disabilities, elderly residents and people who are uninsured or underinsured.

  2. GoFundMe has listed verified fundraisers to donate to those affected by the wildfires.

  3. Maui Food Bank is providing food to people displaced by the fires.

  4. The American Red Cross of Hawaii is helping shelter people affected by the fires.

  5. The Salvation Army is providing meals for emergency shelters, and the organization’s Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division is accepting donations.

  6. Aloha United Way has created the Maui Relief Fund to support the victims of the fires.

  7. The GlobalGiving Hawaii Wildfire Relief Fund supports recovery efforts and helps first responders provide food, fuel, clean water, medicine and shelter to survivors.

If you are unable to donate, sharing these resources on social media platforms and with others is just as important.


Citations

  1. Cowan, J., Romero, S., & Hubler, S. (2023, August 10). Lahaina Showcased Centuries of Hawaiian History. Now Its Gems are Gone. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/10/us/lahaina-maui-wildfires-hawaii-history.html

  2. Borenstein, S., Mcdermott, J., Rush, C. (2023, August 9). Maui’s fire became deadly fast. Climate change, flash drought, invasive grass and more fueled it. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/hawaii-wildfires-climate-change-92c0930be7c28ec9ac71392a83c87582

  3. Hassan, A. (2023, August 10). What We Know About the Wildfires in Hawaii. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/10/us/maui-wildfires-hawaii.html

  4. Lin, S. (2023, August 10). How to help Maui residents displaced by the devastating wildfires. Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-08-10/how-to-help-maui-residents-displaced-by-the-devastating-wildfires

  5. Maui wildfires death toll rises to 93, making it the deadliest natural disaster in Hawaii since it became a state (2023, August 13). CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/maui-wildfires-lahaina-death-toll-updates-deadliest-natural-disaster-hawaii-statehood/

  6. Salahieh, R. R., Holly Yan,Nouran. (2023, August 17). Maui’s emergency management chief resigns, citing health reasons, a day after he defended sirens’ silence during deadly wildfires. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2023/08/17/us/hawaii-maui-wildfires-death-toll-thursday/index.html

  7. Sanchez, R. (2023, August 12). Hawaii has a robust emergency siren warning system. It sat silent during the deadly wildfires. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2023/08/12/us/hawaii-emergency-warning-system-maui-wildfires/index.html

  8. Yousif, N. (2023, August 11). What caused the Hawaii wildfires? BBC News.https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-66470118


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