Raging Wildfire in Maui Destroys Idyllic Island

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A wildfire in Maui ravaging a neighborhood (Image Credit: CBS News)

Wildfires are currently blazing through multiple Hawaiian islands; the most prominent ones have been in Maui, an island home to over 165,000 people, with the town of Lahaina (the island’s main tourist destination) suffering the brunt of the impact.  At the time of writing, 53 casualties and dozens of serious injuries have been reported, and 271 structures, including large apartment buildings, have been irreparably damaged. The fires have thus resulted in 13 evacuations, 16 road closures, and the opening of five shelters which house a total of over 2,000 people.

In Lahaina Town, entire blocks of homes, stores, and a 200-year-old church were completely destroyed. Entire neighborhoods were reduced to smoldering ashes in less than two days, leaving charred remains of people, cars, and docked boats as the sad vestiges.

These wildfires are exacerbated by a combination of dry heat and high winds caused by global warming. They follow only two weeks after the release of the Pacific Climate Security Assessment Guide, which details natural disaster prevention plans in the Pacific. However, wildfires in Hawaii are significantly different from those in the western part of the US, particularly California, and thus American firefighters have difficulty with following these guidelines; for example, those in western America are fueled by forests.

Officials say that this is likely to be the deadliest disaster since Hawaii’s statehood in 1959 and expect the death rate to be in the triple digits in the coming days. They also worry that Maui is underprepared for this scale of a natural disaster, as emergency services are unable to respond to the overwhelming need for help. Hospitals are also experiencing similar problems, as burn patients greatly outnumber the amount of doctors available.

In order to cope with the overflow in hospitals, many patients have been airlifted from overwhelmed hospitals in Maui to those in Oahu and Honolulu; Hawaii Life Flight, an air ambulance company, has been instrumental in this effort.

Currently, there have been many rescue efforts to control the natural disaster. The Coast Guard is on high alert, and recently rescued 14 individuals who rushed into the water to escape the flames, including two children. Hundreds of firefighters have been sent into the largest fires in Maui, with even some firefighters sent to the hospital to treat them for smoke inhalation.

On Thursday, President Biden announced an expansion of federal aid to Hawaii, stating “everyone is going to get help immediately.” This would allow people and businesses to apply for grants that provide housing and resources after the fires cease. The government has also set up public shelters for displaced individuals, such as the Hawaii Convention Center, which currently holds 4,000 people. One of the largest shelters is the Kahului Airport, which houses tourists whose flights arrived as the wildfires were developing.

Thankfully, Hawaiians’ fortunes will not get much worse; Hurricane Dora, a key reason for the conditions that led to the wildfires, is a safe distance away from Honolulu. While it is currently classified as Category 4, the wind speeds are expected to decrease, and will be downgraded to a Category 3 by next week. Experts predict that while Maui will take months to recuperate from the fires, the hurricane itself will not ravage the island.

Written by Aanya Shah

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