The wildfires currently ravaging Maui and the Big Island in Hawaii have become the state’s worst natural disaster since 1960. With at least 55 confirmed deaths, thousands of people have been forced to evacuate, and the historic beach resort of Lahaina has been destroyed. This tragedy also marks America’s second-deadliest wildfire outbreak in the past century, only surpassed by the 2018 Camp Fire in California. The cost of the destruction is yet to be determined, but it could potentially surpass the $20.2 billion worth of damage caused by the previous fire.
What makes this situation even more distressing is that wildfires were considered rare in Hawaii until recently. They were typically attributed to volcanic eruptions or lightning strikes. However, the current wildfires can be attributed to anthropogenic factors, highlighting the impact of human activity on the planet. Hawaii, a tropical paradise situated 2,000 miles west of the US mainland, has only started experiencing the consequences of this influence in recent decades.
Before the 2018 wildfires, Hawaii was primarily affected by tsunamis. The most devastating natural disaster in its history was the tsunami of April 1, 1946, which killed 165 people and caused significant damage to the Hilo Bay waterfront. More tsunamis followed in 1952, 1960, and 1964, with the 1960 tsunami causing 61 deaths and $75 million worth of damage.
Now, fires are becoming more frequent and intense in Hawaii. The Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization estimates that 0.5% (or 20,000 acres) of the state’s land mass burns every year, a proportion equal to or greater than any other state in the country. Humans are responsible for 98% of these fires, which is higher than the national estimate of 85% reported by the US Forest Service. Global warming is exacerbating these fires, as climate change leads to erratic weather patterns.
The current Hawaiian wildfires were fueled by 60mph winds from Hurricane Dora and a low-pressure system off western Japan. Another contributing factor is the abundance of unmanaged dry vegetation, including invasive species like Guinea grass. These invasive species have colonized former farmland and forest areas, creating ideal fuel for wildfires.
Experts warn that neglecting the management of these vegetation areas puts a burden on emergency responders to handle the consequences. They emphasize the need for prudent investments in fuel reduction projects, agricultural land use, restoration, and reforestation to prevent further tragedies.
In conclusion, the wildfires in Hawaii represent a significant natural disaster and the second-deadliest wildfire outbreak in the US in the past century. The fires are a result of anthropogenic factors and exacerbated by climate change. It is crucial to invest in measures that reduce fuel buildup and protect the environment to prevent such tragedies in the future.