People Forced to Flee Wildfires on Maui Island
Authorities reported that residents on the Hawaiian island of Maui had to seek refuge in the ocean on Tuesday to escape the flames and smoke of a wind-driven wildfire. The Coast Guard stated that they rescued approximately twelve individuals in the town of Lahaina who had turned to the water for safety. Thick black smoke, propelled by the wind, was blowing toward the shoreline, as stated by Coast Guard Lt. Elaine Simon.
The wildfire swept across various areas in Lahaina, including Front Street, a popular tourist spot in the historic town. Videos shared on social media depicted a wall of flames descending upon Front Street and destroying several businesses. Alan Dickar, a business owner in the area, shared that buildings were engulfed in flames, and at that point, there were no firefighting units present to combat the fire. He expressed concern about the devastating impact on the economy and the many people who lost their homes and jobs.
Multiple wildfires, fueled by strong winds, were reported across Hawaii, causing structural damage, forced evacuations, and power outages in several communities. Firefighters faced difficulties reaching certain areas due to fallen trees and power lines, along with gridlock and heavy smoke hindering the evacuations. The National Weather Service attributed the gusts, reaching up to 80 mph, and power outages to Hurricane Dora passing south of the island chain.
Challenges Faced by Firefighters and Residents
The Honolulu office of the National Weather Service extended a Red Flag Warning for all of Hawaii’s islands due to the continued extreme risk of wildfires caused by low humidity, high winds, and dry fuels. Fire crews on Maui focused their efforts on fighting multiple fires concentrated in West Maui and an inland, mountainous region. The exact count of burned structures was not immediately available. Helicopters were unable to dump water on the fires or assess the fire sizes due to the strong winds. Roads were blocked by fallen trees and power lines, hindering firefighters’ access to the inland fires.
As a result of the wildfire, around 15,000 customers were without power. The dry conditions, combined with the high winds, made the situation extremely dangerous, causing fires to spread rapidly. Hurricane Dora’s presence in the region exacerbated the already dry season and contributed to the dangerous fire conditions. The fires in Hawaii typically occur in large grasslands on the dry sides of the islands and are generally smaller than wildfires in mainland United States. However, they can still cause significant environmental damage.
Impacts on the Local Communities
In addition to Lahaina, the island of Oahu, home to Honolulu, faced power outages, downed power lines, and traffic issues. As a precautionary measure, five public schools on Maui were closed and would remain shut on Wednesday. Evacuation orders were issued for approximately 400 homes in four communities in the northern part of the Big Island.
Hawaii’s native ecosystems had evolved without fires, so when they do occur, it can cause severe harm to the environment. The removal of vegetation during fires, followed by heavy rainfall, can lead to soil erosion and negatively impact coral reefs in the ocean. The state has witnessed previous devastating wildfires, such as one on the Big Island in 2021 that destroyed homes and displaced thousands.
The initial high wind warning and red flag warnings issued by the National Weather Service were expected to decrease over the next few days.