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Why Are the Hawaii Wildfires a Serious Turning Point?
Blog...Why Are the Hawaii Wildfires a Serious Turning Point?

Why Are the Hawaii Wildfires a Serious Turning Point?

Green News
Global Warming
cliffs off of the coast of hawaii
In this article, we’ll explore the current wildfires in Hawaii, what caused them, what the state can do moving forward to protect itself from the effects of climate change – and why the current wildfires in Hawaii are a serious turning point.
Green News
cliffs off of the coast of hawaii

When we think of Hawaii, more often than not – a dreamy tropical vacation comes to mind: complete with coconuts, leis, snorkeling, hiking, and beachside dinners. Unfortunately, the state of Hawaii hasn’t been much of a dream vacation destination for many – but more like a nightmare out of a horror movie.

In early August 2023, wildfires started to break out across the state – but predominantly on the island of Maui: known for less tourism and more tranquil vacations over the populated Oahu and capital Honolulu. 

In this article, we’ll explore the current wildfires in Hawaii, what caused them, what the state can do moving forward to protect itself from the effects of climate change – and why the current wildfires in Hawaii are a serious turning point.

sunset on beach palm trees

What is the usual climate in Hawaii?

The island of Hawaii, roughly a five hour flight from mainland USA – resides in the Pacific Ocean with a unique combination of mountains, beaches, and tropical vegetation that attracts tourists for a warm getaway year-round.

👉 Hawaii never really gets cold, making it a desirable destination for many – with daytime summer temperatures averaging to be 85° F (or around 30° C), and daytime winter temperatures peaking at 78° F (or around 25° C).

Unlike its closest neighbor state of California, Hawaii is known for more humid temperatures – often making it feel hotter on the island than it already is, but it is important to note that not all areas of Hawaii are humid. Many of the islands (there are five main islands that make up Hawaii: Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui, and the “big island” – or the main island of Hawaii) also have a dry side, meaning that Hawaii isn’t only prone to hurricanes – but wildfires.

road in hawaii

Why are wildfires happening in Maui and Hawaii?

The exact breakdown of how the wildfires in Hawaii, specifically in Maui, got as bad as they did due to a sensitive timeline.

Timeline of Events for Wildfires in Hawaii 

August 7th 2023 started with residents and tourists in Hawaii alike being warned about dangerous winds approaching the island. 

One natural disaster helped fuel the other one in the event of the Hawaiin wildfires, with Hurricane Dora traveling at speeds upwards of 130 miles per hour – the category 4 storm helped to create brutal winds that eventually helped the wildfire spread.

On August 8th 2023, news broke in the early morning that a brush fire had started in the area of Kula near Olinda Road Maui – later being called the “Upcountry Fire”. Later, there would be two more wildfires to break out: each called the “West Maui wildfire” and “South Maui wildfire” respectively.

Strong winds from Hurricane Dora that spread all the way to the historic area of Lahaina, which made it even more difficult to completely put out the already raging wildfire.

By this point, the available water supply to put out the wildfires spreading across Maui was dwindling – resulting in explosions and an official evacuation warning to be noticed.

On August 9th 2023, helicopters arrived in Maui to help the firefighters in Lahania, as the authorities slowly started to announce the casualties – first announcing six and ultimately 36 by the end of the day. 

By August 10th 2023, the wildfires in Lahania were reported to have been 80% contained, and the additional fires that broke out in Pulehu and Kīhei to have been 70% contained. 

By August 11th, 2023, the death toll was up to 67 people – as reports began to circulate that the island of Maui failed to use warning sirens during the incident, leading many to believe the rising death toll could have been prevented.

However, reports later confirmed that the sirens were not sounded as officials believed that many would have mistaken it for a tsunami warning and headed for the mountains instead – directly where the wildfires were coming from.

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As of August 14th 2023, the death toll for the Maui wildfires had reached 99, with only a quarter of the island having been searched for corpses. 

👉 Ultimately, the wildfires in Hawaii happened due to increasingly hot and drought-like weather conditions – and as the main components of any wildfire are dryness and a source where the fire starts. For Hawaii, that source is grass – as the islands are known to be home to lush vegetation. 

Wildfires have been happening in Hawaii for a long time, but in combination with rising temperatures and drier conditions – more numerous and deadly wildfires are inevitable, which has been shown with the recent wildfires in Maui.
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bird's eye view of hawaii

What have been the effects of the wildfires in Maui and across Hawaii?

There have been insufferable consequences as a result of the wildfires that occurred across Hawaii in Maui, with nearly 100 dead and counting – as the death toll is likely to go up as county officials continue to search derelict homes for bodies.

While Maui is known by many as nothing more than a tourist attraction, it is home to many – with the island holding a rich history and culture for natives that now suffer from post-traumatic stress having seen their homes catch on fire and burn to the ground. The community will now not only have to literally rebuild, but also mentally recuperate after the devastating loss of their lush island, family members, and historic landmarks.

Currently, it is estimated that it will cost around $5.52 billion dollars to rebuild Maui after the damage done by the recent wildfires.

This puts economic strain on an island that largely depends on tourism to boost its economy, something likely to be halted in the foreseeable future while the island deals with the aftermath of its recent natural disaster. 

Something else the entire state of Hawaii is likely to deal with following the wildfires in Maui is decreased air quality, which is similar to what happened across the United States following the Canadian wildfires. This decrease in air quality could lead to further strain on health insurance companies across the state, leading to added financial consequences for Hawaii.

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Is Hawaii well-equipped to handle natural disasters such as wildfires?

The wildfires across Maui are now considered to be the deadliest wildfire in modern history. After the loss of so many lives, homes, and many being left with a barren homeland – a valid question comes to mind: is Hawaii prepared to prevent another modern tragedy?

Well, one of the evident challenges of a natural disaster like a wildfire or hurricane occurring in Hawaii is how far out the islands are. Situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii – it is around 5.5 hours from California, 7 from Japan, and 10 from Australia. This makes it hard for Hawaii to have rescue support sent to the state in the event of a dire emergency such as the recent wildfires. 

In fact, a recent study by the University of Hawaii West Oahu revealed that most people residing in the state of Hawaii are not prepared in the event of a natural disaster. Seeing as Hawaii is prone to flooding, hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, earthquakes, and even volcanic eruptions – this is a cause for concern. 

According to the study, many Hawaiian households are not equipped with sufficient amounts of food, water, and medicine. This unawareness to the importance of natural disaster preparedness insinuates that the Hawaiian authorities have not done a good job educating its residents on the importance of remaining prepared in addition to the overall likelihood of natural disasters in Hawaii.

👉 Ultimately, the recent wildfires in Hawaii are a serious turning point as it reveals to the state how imperative it is to have a proper natural disaster preparedness plan in addition to an effective evacuation plan – both of which have not been demonstrated well, and are even receiving backlash following the wildfires in Maui.

The wildfires in Hawaii reveal a longstanding problem in the U.S., and that is policymakers failing to invest in natural disaster preparedness before they happen. In other words, it's costing the U.S. more money in the long-run to have to pay for the damages on the spot.

sunset in hawaii

What can Hawaii do to prevent wildfires in the future?

As Hawaii continues to grapple with the aftermath of the wildfires, a great way to provide hope for residents and future generations of Hawaii is to develop a more surefire plan to prevent environmental crises like the recent fires in Maui.

One of the first preventative measures that would do a topography such as Hawaii a world of good would be to implement better vegetation management. This would require monitoring and cleaning out vegetation in high-risk areas for wildfires on a periodic basis to prevent a wildfire from being able to spread at the same instantaneous capacity as the recent wildfires in Maui did.

The state of Hawaii would also benefit from better public awareness and education on how to help reduce the likelihood of wildfires. This includes more signs and broadcasts reminding residents and tourists alike to not leave anything that could create a wildfire unattended until it is out completely. 

Wildfires in Maui revealed a massive flaw in Hawaii’s current evacuation plan – a deleterious lack of early detection and response. Therefore, the state would largely benefit from developing a better method to ensure all residents and tourists are made aware of a rampant wildfire in the future – as many casualties in Maui resulted in a lack of siren warnings to signal people should evacuate immediately.

Because Hawaii is in a remote location, it can be hard to deliver resources in the midst of a natural disaster – therefore, it is compulsory that the state organizes places to keep reserves of essential resources that are likely to dwindle in the midst of a climate crisis.

Last but not least, Hawaii could continue to develop its plans to combat climate change altogether – would help prevent incidents like wildfires at the root of the cause.

There doesn’t need to be another modern wildfire as deadly as the ones that have occurred in Maui, and with cooperation from Hawaiian officials and residents alike – we can decrease our chances of making the most devastating kinds of headlines – together.

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What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about the wildfires in Maui have made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

Working to protect large bodies of natural land like the island of Maui in Hawaii can be a difficult task in the same way it's hard to manage the effects a large business has on climate change, but don’t worry – Greenly is here to help. Click here to schedule a demo to see how Greenly can help you find ways to improve energy efficiency and decrease the dependency on fossil fuels in your own company. 

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

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