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Century-Old Hawaiian Town Destroyed by Worst Wildfire in US History

Wildfire destroys century-old town

When she first arrived in Maui on August 7, Wei Lin, who was traveling in Hawaii with her friends, was a little worried about the travel plan: the wind was too strong. They stayed in a high-end local hotel, but the windows were blowing loudly. When I woke up, the wind did not stop, but the fire seemed to “fall from the sky”. On the morning of the 8th, the hotel had a power outage, and the waiters knocked on the door one by one to tell them, “There are electric poles nearby that have been burned. Please stay in the room as much as possible and be safe.” In the afternoon, Wei Lin could see the raging fire in the west from the window. , “Half the sky is burning red, and there is a stench of burnt plastic, glass, and pipes in the air.

Wei Lin lives in a small town on the west side of Maui, about 30 kilometers away from Lahaina, the town most affected by the fire.

Worst hit was the small town of Lahaina on the west side of Maui. Town resident Dustin Kaleiopu (Dustin Kaleiopu) recalled in an interview with NBC that the fire spread so fast that there was almost no chance of escape. At around 3:30 pm local time on August 8, a puff of very thick smoke began to drift towards his home, and he heard explosions from gas stations in the surrounding neighborhood. At 4:30 p.m., “the sparks flew into the neighbor’s yard, the fire started, and we only had a few minutes to drive away because after only one hour, my home was completely burnt down.”

The wildfire swept through the town in less than three hours. Some people who were too late to escape were forced to the coast and jumped into the Pacific Ocean to escape the raging flames. The Coast Guard later said they had rescued more than a dozen people from the sea. The fire also ignited ships moored in the port, and even destroyed buildings on Pacific stilts.

On August 10, when Calleop returned to the town, “the world has changed, everyone I know is homeless, the whole town is reduced to ashes, and there is nothing left.”

On August 8, more than 2,000 acres (about 800 hectares) were burned in Maui, Hawaii, USA. As of August 13, local time, the fire has killed 96 people, making it the deadliest fire in the United States in a century. This number may continue to climb. Hawaii Governor Josh Green (Josh Green) said at a press conference , “The search for and identification of the deceased is still in the early stages, and the remains are expected to take days or even weeks to be found.” “This was a fire that could melt metal and was so severe that DNA had to be used to identify every body found,” said Isle of Island Police Chief John Pelletier .

The entire town of Lahaina was almost razed to the ground. Aerial pictures taken on August 12 showed that thick smoke enveloped Lahaina, all the vegetation on the ground was burned to ashes, a large number of houses collapsed to the ground, and the few remaining buildings were also blackened by the smoke. “It’s shocking when you see the extent of the damage in Lahaina, it looks like a bomb that’s on fire, like a battlefield,” Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said at a news conference. All the buildings have to be rebuilt.”

On the afternoon of August 9, Wei Lin and her party ended the trip that had not yet started. When she rushed to the nearest airport, “the airport was already crowded like a refugee camp.” At present, Maui has evacuated more than 10,000 tourists, and the local government issued a notice to remind tourists to reduce or cancel their trips to Maui. A Chinese photographer based in Hawaii told this magazine that Lahaina used to be a popular tourist attraction for people traveling to the state of Hawaii. Dormant volcanoes; or stroll along the front street of Lahaina town, walk under the 150-year-old banyan tree, and experience the former style of the native Hawaiians along the way.”

Lahaina is known as “a shining pearl of the Kingdom of Hawaii”. In an interview with NBC, a Native Hawaiian said that the fire caused them to lose “a place full of Aboriginal history and culture.” Rosalyn R. LaPier, a professor who focuses on the study of indigenous environments and religions, said in her article that Lahaina is revered by Native Hawaiians because it is believed to be the home of a goddess. In 1810, before the arrival of American colonists, the chief chief of the Big Island of Hawaii successfully unified all the islands of Hawaii and made Lahaina his royal palace. Later, several churches and palaces built in the 19th century have been preserved until the 21st century. There is also a big banyan tree in the town, which was planted in 1873. When it was transported from India, it was only a two-meter-high sapling. Later, it grew to a height of 18 meters. This big banyan tree also became the town’s assembly center.

Unfortunately, most of these buildings and big banyan trees were scorched in the fire.

“Extreme Events” Portfolio

Wildfires have been common in Hawaii in previous years, but this year’s fires have been extraordinarily intense. Kelsey Copes-Gerbitz, a researcher at the University of British Columbia’s School of Forestry, said the extreme fires were exacerbated by a combination of extreme events, “including the current drought in Maui. weather, hurricanes passing south of the island with strong winds, and dry invasive weeds.”

This year, the drought in Maui has been particularly severe. According to data released by the U.S. Drought Monitoring Agency, the drought in Maui has been intensifying since May this year. Until August 7, about 83% of the island was in abnormal drought or moderate to severe drought. This causes plants to dry out, experts say, and the atmosphere draws moisture from the ground and plants, making them more susceptible to fire. “The most destructive fires often occur during droughts. If an area goes into drought quickly, that means the risk of destructive fires may increase and fires will last longer.”

“Invasive weeds” on the surface of Hawaii became the best fuel for fires. Abby Frazier, an assistant professor at Clark University, is a climate geographer who completed her master’s and doctoral studies in Hawaii. She told the publication that the past few decades have seen a dramatic shift in the way land is used in Hawaii. Hawaii used to have a wide range of sugarcane, pineapple and other planting agriculture. Due to tourism development, urbanization, changes in consumption patterns and other reasons, the number of these plantations has been continuously reduced until they have been completely closed for a century. Land is no longer managed as carefully as it used to be. Many of the plants introduced from other regions (especially Africa) grow on the ground. These invasive grasses and shrubs are easier to burn than other types of vegetation, and they have no natural enemies and tend to multiply in large numbers. “Due to changes in vegetation cover, the area burned by wildfires has increased statewide in Hawaii, which is one of the reasons why wildfires occur frequently in Maui. The current drought has made wild grasses dry and flammable, exacerbating the fire situation.”

Another factor speeding up the spread of the fire is super strong winds. Trade winds are originally part of Hawaii’s climate, but this year’s Hurricane Dora tipped the balance, bringing unusually strong trade winds. According to data provided by the weather service, on August 8, the wind speed in the Lahaina area reached 60 to 80 mph, fanned by the wind, and the flames quickly swept through most of the town.

“The climate conditions at the time were: a ridge of high pressure in the north and Hurricane ‘Dora’ passing in the south, which produced very strong downhill winds in Lahaina.” Clay Traunig, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa Clay Trauernicht told this publication that the passage of the hurricane was an “accelerated” condition for the long-term drought and weeds on the Hawaiian island. “Big storms tend to draw moist air into the center of the storm. Unfortunately What’s remarkable is that this time the community of Lahaina is dealing with wildfires (caused by these extreme conditions).”

Is it possible to prevent wildfires?

Clay Traunicht has long focused on the study of wildland fire management in Hawaii and the Pacific region. He mentioned that in 2019, 21 houses were destroyed by wildfires in western Maui, and about 20,000 acres of land in the central part of the island were burned in the same year. and in 2018, another hurricane system approached the west side of Hawaii, causing massive fires on Oahu.

Rare catastrophes are becoming a reality frequently, and the more pressing question scientists need to answer is, what can be done to prevent wildfires from happening, or reduce the damage they cause?

“We certainly hope that this extreme fire in Lahaina will not become the norm in the future.” Clay Traunicht explained that every wildfire requires three core elements: ignition source, burning fuel and suitable climate. “Natural causes of fires can be lightning strikes and lightning, so the improvement of electrical infrastructure is an important area. But many fires on the island of Hawaii are caused by human activities, whether accidental or intentional. So, some popular science Education is critical. As for the climate, it is clear that current trends will only make fire prevention more difficult in the coming decades.”

Clay Traunicht told the publication that more attention could now be paid to the “fuel”—that is, the management of surface vegetation. “Fuel interruptions slow fires and provide access for firefighters.” This management can be done by regularly mowing or spraying, removing weeds from the ground, or by planting plants with high moisture content on the ground to block the connection of weeds. “Northeast China has made a lot of investment in this strategy, and the effect is good.” Another indirect management method for surface weeds is through planting and animal husbandry. “Targeted grazing, Using livestock to cut down on fuel. We even did a project in Hawaii to restore agriculture in the Hawaiian wetlands, where people would grow taro as a firebreak.”

However, Hawaii’s unique geography and limited resources complicate these prevention efforts. “For Hawaii, we’re a little bit more difficult to get long-term funding in place.” According to Clay Traunicht’s research, the staff of the Hawaii State Department of Forestry and Wildlife mainly consists of foresters, biologists and technicians Working part-time, there is a lack of full-time wildland firefighters, and it is difficult to dispatch firefighters from other states in the first place. In 2021, a fire broke out in the western part of Maui County, forcing thousands of people to evacuate, and less than 300 firefighters participated in the firefighting. “If it is the mainland, thousands of firefighters may participate.”

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