Hawaii Governor Josh Green issued a stark warning to the world following a devastating “fire hurricane” that destroyed the historic town of Lahaina on the island of Maui. Speaking in an interview on MSNBC, Green explained that the state’s drought conditions resulting from climate change, combined with 60mph winds from Hurricane Dora, created the perfect conditions for the fires to spread rapidly through the community. He emphasized the urgent need for action on climate change, stating that this is what future fire hurricanes will look like in the era of global warming.
The death toll from the fire hurricane currently stands at 93 confirmed fatalities, making it the deadliest wildfire in modern US history. The number is expected to rise further, and the governor described the situation as a “war zone” and the “worst natural disaster that Hawaii ever faced.” Firefighters are still battling flare-ups, and search efforts are ongoing. The scene in Lahaina is described as “too grim,” with bodies difficult to identify due to the extent of the damage.
This wildfire has already surpassed the death toll of the 2018 Camp fire in California, which destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people. The deadliest wildfire in US history remains the 1918 Cloquet fire in Minnesota and Wisconsin, which claimed 453 lives. Prior to this fire, Hawaii’s worst natural disaster occurred in 1960 when a tsunami killed 61 people.
The communications infrastructure in Lahaina was severely impacted by the flames, leaving many people unaccounted for. It is too early to determine how many missing individuals may have perished in the fire. At least 2,200 buildings have been listed as damaged or destroyed, with residential properties comprising 86% of the total. The estimated cost of damage across the island is close to $6 billion.
The state’s emergency notification system is facing scrutiny over whether enough was done to warn residents before the fire engulfed their homes. Sirens intended to warn of natural disasters did not sound, and widespread power outages hindered other forms of alerts. The state’s attorney general has launched a review of the decision-making process before and during the fire.
President Joe Biden briefly responded to questions about visiting the wildfire disaster site in Maui. While it is customary for presidents to visit calamity-stricken areas, logistical challenges and the distance of a 10-hour flight from Washington, DC, pose difficulties. However, the president has declared a major disaster and mobilized federal agencies to assist with relief efforts.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has deployed 150 personnel on the ground, with additional search teams and dogs expected to arrive soon. Efforts are underway to provide housing for those who lost their homes, including securing hotel rooms and rental properties at no cost to families. Emergency shelters are accommodating over 1,400 people, and food, water, and communication resources are being distributed to support those affected by the disaster.
As firefighters continue to contain flare-ups and search efforts continue, the community of Lahaina faces a long road to recovery from this devastating fire hurricane. The event serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need to address climate change and invest in measures to mitigate its impacts.