Hawaii wildfires: Did scientists expect Maui to burn?
Maui is reeling from wildfires that devastated the Hawaiian island last week. They have taken at least 106 lives and caused more than US$5.52 billion dollars of damage.
Wildfires are not new to Hawaii. Although outsiders tend to think of the Pacific archipelago as a place of lush tropical vegetation, each island has a drier leeward side that is sheltered from the wind — this is where tourism tends to be concentrated, because of the sunny weather. Lahaina, where the most lethal fire broke out on 8 August, means ‘cruel sun’ in Hawaiian; this part of Maui has always been hot and dry.
cause of the fire in Hawaii
- Drought– Maui was experiencing severe drought. The dry land, with dry non-native grasses and vegetation, triggered wildfire. These fed the fires and helped them spread.
- Hurricane Dora- The fire started in the wild and was carried by the wind at almost 100 mph due to Hurricane Dora, an unusually strong storm in the Pacific Ocean.
- The hurricane did not hit Hawaii. Instead, the islands were caught between high and low-pressure zones due to the hurricane, which resulted in the winds fanning the flames and making these difficult to control.
- Climate change– Maui suffered fires in 2018 and 2021 which caused massive destruction. Climate change and forest loss are working together to make Hawaii drier and hotter.
- Invasive species– The change in land use pattern where the farm and forest lands are being replaced by flammable non-native species of grasses like Guinea grass, is a likely cause for the easy spread of the fire.
How does climate change fuel wildfire?
- The intense nature of wildfire is caused due to
- Warming weather
- Dry conditions
- Change in the rain cycle
- Hot, dry weather pulls moisture from plants and soil, leaving dry fuel that can easily burn.
- High temperature-July 2023, saw the highest temperatures on record across the planet and evidence suggests that the record will be broken sooner than later.
- On a windy day, a spark from a power line, campfire or lightning can start a wildfire that quickly spreads.
- Frequent forest fire– The Northern Hemisphere has seen significant wildfire activity since the beginning of May this year, with widespread record-breaking fires in Canada and large fires across eastern Russia.