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Maui Wildfire’s Death Toll Reaches Highest in a Century

Image (Associated Press/Rick Bowmer)


The wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, that started on Tuesday, August 8, have devastated its former capital, Lahaina, a city of 12,000 residents.


According to the National Fire Protection Agency, the death toll is now up to 93 as of Sunday, August 13, making it the deadliest wildfire in the last century. 


Daniel Swain, a climate scientist from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), believes the fire resulted from powerful downslope winds, an existing drought, and invasive grasses, making it “the perfect storm.” 


Hurricane Dora, a category four hurricane 800 miles off the coast of Honolulu, may be the primary cause of the outbreak of wildfires.


“It’s an open question how much the presence of Dora may have fueled the strength of the winds that ripped across Hawai‘i,”   Yale Climate Connections article reported, “Dora has been remarkably potent for a long time.”


Although the current drought is not as profound as in recent years, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Maui was still experiencing a moderate to severe drought that helped the fires start when the intense winds came from down the mountains. 


According to a study by the American Meteorological Society (AMS), highly flammable invasive grasses accounted for 85% of the area burned in 2018 when wildfires raged in the same region. 


The results have been catastrophic. Unfortunately, there are likely to be more death reports, as authorities are only in the early stages of searching for and identifying the deceased.



“We’ve got an area that we may have to contain that is at least 5 square miles, and it is full of our loved ones. None of us really know the size of it yet,” Maui Police Chief, John Pelletier said.


As of Friday, Maui County’s recent press release confirmed were 1,418 people at emergency evacuation shelters. 


Many citizens of Lahaina had to go into the ocean to survive. Jo Ann Hayashi, Maui’s resident, reported to The Wall Street Journal going into the water fully clothed and “being battered by the waves and high tide, rocks pummeling their feet, for what she guessed was six or seven hours.” 


“For much of the time, they had to dodge burning palm fronds and tree branches falling into the water,” the article stated. 


The town buildings are largely ash, as 2,200 structures were destroyed or damaged. The losses approach $6 billion in an early estimate.



US Congresswoman Jill Tokuda, who represents Maui, states that the warning sirens likely did not go off. The Attorney General of Hawaii, Anne Lopez, announced the initiation of a comprehensive review of all decision-making concerning these wildfires. 


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