Scientists and wildfire activists say a confluence of factors heightens fire risks in the Aloha State and could trigger more disasters if action isn’t urgently taken. The factors include the spread of flammable nonnative grasses across abandoned farm fields and a failure to manage the vegetation and harden communities against fire.
In addition, changes in the climate are fueling stronger hurricanes and may be contributing to drier conditions in Hawaii. Fire destroyed homes and buildings burned to the ground around the harbor and Front Street in the historic Lahaina Town are seen in the aftermath of wildfires in western Maui in Lahaina, Hawaii, on August 10, 2023.Possibly 40 People Have Died and Homes and Businesses Destroyed In Its Wake!
Blazes have been raging across Maui and have also been reported on the island of Hawaii, trapping locals and visitors as strong winds linked to Hurricane Dora continue to hamper efforts by authorities to contain the flames. More than 130 Hawaii National Guard members have been activated, and helicopters are searching for those left behind in areas without power and accessible roads. More mass bus evacuations are scheduled for West Maui on Thursday.
The National Guard announced Thursday that more than 130 Hawaii Guard members have been activated in response to the wildfires in Maui. Two Hawaii Army National Guard helicopters assisted in dropping more than 100,000 gallons of water on the wildfires Wednesday, the agency said on Twitter. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Hawaii County Fire Department was battling three brush fires in North and South Kohala that resulted in mandatory evacuations for several areas.
The fires are located in the North Kohala District off Akoni Pule Highway (Highway 270) near Kohala Ranch and the others in the South Kohala District in Waimea, including one near the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. The ecological ravages of Hawaii over time have left behind nonnative grasses that serve as fuel for blazes. Some experts say the islands have yet to fully prepare.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced on Thursday the deployment of 11 members of California’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces to Hawaii. “Californians know firsthand the devastating toll of catastrophic wildfires fueled by climate change, capable of wiping out entire communities and centuries of irreplaceable history and heritage," Newsom stated. "Our state is sending resources to support our Pacific neighbors during their time of need.”
As the planet heats up, no place is protected from disasters. The story of this week’s blaze arguably began decades ago, when Hawaii started experiencing a long-term decline in average annual rainfall. Since 1990, rainfall at selected monitoring sites has been 31 percent lower in the wet season, and 6 percent lower in the dry season, according to work published in 2015 by researchers at the University of Hawaii and the University of Colorado.
There are multiple reasons for that change, according to Abby Frazier, a climatologist at Clark University who has researched Hawaii. As temperatures increase, the clouds over Hawaii are thinner, Dr. Frazier said. And less cloud cover means less precipitation. On top of that, big storms have been moving north over time — delivering less of the rainfall that they typically bring to the islands. All three changes are probably related to rising temperatures, Dr. Frazier said. “There’s likely a climate change signal in everything we see,” she said.
Almost 16 percent of Maui County, where the wildfires are burning, is in severe drought, according to data issued by the U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday; an additional 20 percent is in moderate drought.