Maui wildfire: A devastating blow to Hawaii

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Update on the Maui wildfires

According to a recent report on CNN, crews in west Maui are painstakingly sifting through the remains of homes and landmarks destroyed by the most lethal wildfire the US has witnessed in over a century.

The death toll has reached 96. Several individuals are still missing, with search teams and cadaver dogs scanning the razed neighbourhoods.

Hawaii’s unprecedented natural disaster

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green commented on the tragedy: “This is the largest natural disaster we’ve ever experienced.”

He further noted: “It’s going to also be a natural disaster that’s going to take an incredible amount of time to recover from.”

Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency hesitated to place a financial estimate on the damage in Maui, the governor suggested that the losses could be around $6 billion.

Despite efforts to evaluate the damage, the firefight continues.

Maui County Fire Chief Brad Ventura revealed on Saturday that, while significant progress has been made against the three main wildfires, the deadly fire in Lahaina remains not fully under control.

Gov. Green highlighted the intense speed of the Lahaina wildfire in a video update, stating: “When the winds rose up – winds gusting as high as 81 miles per hour – fires spread rapidly.”

He added: “We believe between 60 miles per hour and 81 miles per hour across that part of the island, and that meant that fire travelled one mile every minute.”

A red flag warning was previously declared by the weather service on Monday, pointing out the critical fire weather conditions created by the combination of dry lands, gusty winds, and low humidity levels.

By Tuesday afternoon, winds from the powerful Hurricane Dora, which was hundreds of miles south of Hawaii, exacerbated the already raging wildfires leading to multiple evacuations in Lahaina and Upcountry Maui.

As of Sunday 3 p.m. local time, the Lahaina wildfire had consumed 2,170 acres and was 85% contained, whereas the Upcountry or Kula fire covered an estimated 678 acres and was 60% contained.

Communication breakdown during the crisis

Even as fires advanced quickly into neighbourhoods, the world’s largest siren system remained silent.

Residents mainly depended on mobile phones and broadcasters for emergency updates during times when most power and cell services were down.

When questioned about the lack of siren alerts, Green elaborated, “There were multiple fires at the same time, and the circumstance was greatly complicated also by the heat and the speed with which the fire spread, destroying a great deal of infrastructure.”

He assured that a comprehensive review would be undertaken to determine potential improvements in safeguarding residents in future.

NFPA’s perspective on the global wildfire issue

The NFPA draws attention to the global issue of unprecedented wildfires, emphasising both human and natural causes.

Jim Pauley, the President and CEO of NFPA, stated: “This painful and tragic reality was on full display in Maui as wind-driven fires overwhelmed the small island.”

He stressed the necessity for stronger policies, saying: “While voluntary actions to mitigate property have proved successful to an extent, the sheer volume of communities at risk requires changes to where we build, how we build, and what we do to existing properties.”

Recent statistics show that wildfires over the past five years have obliterated nearly 63,000 structures in the U.S., the majority being homes.

Officials are predicting more wildfires in the upcoming months due to persistent dry heat and elevated storm activity, urging residents to take preventative measures.

IFSJ Comment

The increasing prevalence and intensity of wildfires globally underscore the urgency of proactive community planning, improved infrastructure resilience, and comprehensive emergency response strategies.

The Maui wildfire serves as a poignant reminder of the risks many regions face and the need for ongoing education, prevention, and preparedness.

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