Climate Health Pharma

Wildfire death toll in Hawaii climbs to 80, AG orders probe

Firefighters were putting out flares and desperately trying to contain wildfires in the worst-affected regions of Hawaii as the fatalities rose to 80 and the Attorney General announced a probe, according to the government.

HQ Team

August 13, 2023: Firefighters were putting out flares and desperately trying to contain wildfires in the worst-affected regions of Hawaii as the fatalities rose to 80 and the Attorney General announced a probe, according to the government.

The burned-down historic Lahaina town area remained barricaded, with people being told to wear masks and gloves and stay out of the area due to pollution hazards including toxic particles from smoldering areas.

Volunteers distributed food, water, toiletries, canned goods, diapers, baby formula, clothing, and pet food at Lahaina Gateway Center and at Napili Plaza.

“Firefighters continue working to extinguish flare-ups and contain fires in Lahaina, Pulehu/Kihei, and Upcountry Maui,” according to the statement.

“A fire in Kaanapali was reported… at 6:10 pm on Friday and was 100 percent contained before 8:30 pm.”

Fueling station

The blaze was in an area where a county fueling station was positioned to distribute an estimated 3,000 gallons of gas and 500 gallons of diesel.

The fuel was meant for about 400 vehicles that were lined up before the operation began, and it was not distributed on August 12.

According to the Pacific Disaster Center, as of August 11, 2023, damage assessments related to the Lahaina Fire resulted in an estimated total of 2,719 structures exposed, and 2,207 structures damaged or destroyed.

About 2,170 acres were burned and 86% of buildings exposed to the fire were classified as residential.

Police restricted access into West Maui through both Maalaea and Waihee. Honoapiilani Highway was open for vehicles leaving Lahaina. 

The Hawaii Department of Transportation shut down Kahului Airport Runway 523 to accommodate cargo operations, assisting in airlifting goods and necessities to Maui.

War Memorial Complex

A center to take in donations of non-perishable food, bottled water, and hygiene was opened at the War Memorial Complex field in Wailuku. A Family Assistance Center for family members who are looking for information about their kith and kin was set up.

The county Department of Transportation is coordinating buses to transport people staying at emergency shelters to the county. Driver’s licenses and state identification cards were being reissued.

A total of 1,418 people were at emergency evacuation shelters. Additional cellphone service was made available in West Maui. “Cellphone users are reminded to text not talk so everyone can share the limited resources.

Every year about 0.5% of Hawaii’s total land area burns— equal to or greater than the proportion burned in any other US state. 

Over 98% of wildfires were caused by humans.

Comprehensive review

Attorney General, Anne Lopez, announced that the Department of the Attorney General will conduct a comprehensive review of critical decision-making and standing policies leading up to, during, and after the wildfires on Maui and Hawaii islands this week.

“My Department is committed to understanding the decisions that were made before and during the wildfires and to share with the public the results of this review,” Attorney General Lopez said. 

“As we continue to support all aspects of the ongoing relief effort, now is the time to begin this process of understanding.”

From August 11, through September 10, 2023, the Hawaii Department of Transportation will waive wharfage charges for certain types of cargo inbound to Kahului Harbor to support humanitarian relief to Maui.

“This will lessen the burden on shipping necessities to many who now have nothing,” said Hawaii Department of Transportation Director Ed Sniffen. “And we will continue to look at ways we can help the people of Lāhainā and west Maui as we move forward.”

Non-native grasses

Human ignitions coupled with an increasing amount of non-native, fire-prone grasses and shrubs and a warming, drying climate have greatly increased the wildfire problem, according to the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization.

In 2016, Maui had one of its worst wildfire seasons. 

With barely any vegetation left in the burned areas to hold down silty soils, a mid-September storm rained down on the burned lands and carried trash and debris through our watersheds and out into the ocean.

Fires burned more than 30,000 acres of forest and brushland in both 2018 and 2019 – far more than any other year in more than a decade, according to the latest State of Hawaiʻi Data Book.

Thirty-one individual fires in 2019 engulfed 32,124 acres of forest and brushland – a combined area almost as large as the island of Niihau.

Hawaii, an island state in the western US, has seen a spike in drought intensity since 2016, especially during the summers. 

The US Drought Monitor, a service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, showed a spike this past summer in areas of Hawai‘i categorized as D2, which is a severe drought.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *