Despite the lush landscapes and tropical paradises commonly associated with the Hawaiian Islands, wildfires are a recurring problem that threatens natural ecosystems and human communities. Hawaii, the only state considered an archipelago, consists of a chain of volcanic islands located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
What causes wildfires in Hawaii?
The climate varies across the Hawaiian Islands but includes areas of tropical rainforest and arid regions. Besides seasonal changes and droughts, other factors such as invasive grasses, volcanic activity, and human activity can create favorable conditions for wildfires.
Natural factors that can cause wildfires in Hawaii
Natural factors such as lightning strikes and pyroclastic flows can cause forest fires. Dry conditions, particularly on the leeward sides of the islands, contribute to increased risk. Trade winds can exacerbate fires, spread embers and cause wildfires to spread rapidly.
Human factors that can cause wildfires in Hawaii
Human activities such as arson, discarded cigarettes, power lines, and sparking of machinery can also contribute to wildfires in Hawaii. Urbanization in wilderness areas increases the risk, as human activities move closer to natural fire-prone areas.
Maui, the second largest island in Hawaii, experienced a devastating wildfire raging between August 8-9, 2023. The island’s persistent drought coupled with winds from nearby weather systems fueled the wildfires that devoured the historic city of Lahaina as well as the region. northwest of Kihei.
Wind gusts of 45 to 67 miles (72 to 107 kilometers) per hour have been reported in the area by the National Weather Service. The high winds are believed to be due in part to the presence of Hurricane Dora, which is passing south of Hawaii as a Category 4 storm.
the The passage of Hurricane Dora is believed to have created a high pressure system Between the storm and the island of Maui. Climate scientists point to a similar high pressure situation created by Hurricane Lane in 2018 that similarly generated high winds that fueled wildfires on Maui and Oahu.
Dry conditions from the ongoing drought in Maui Increased fuel available for wildfires. The high winds also enabled the rapid spread of the fire from one structure to another within the city of Lahaina.
This Landsat 8 image from August 8, 2023 shows the aftermath of wildfires burning in Lahaina and Kihei.
Lahaina before and after the bushfires in August 2023
Maui County officials reported which was 55 dead More than 1,000 buildings burned as a result of these massive fires. As of August 10, 2023, officials have been reporting this And 80% of the fire has been contained.
These earlier photos and satellite images of part of Lahaina show the extent of the fire’s devastation. Very few buildings in Lahaina were not affected by the August 2023 wildfires.
Henson, B., and Masters, J. (2023, August 11). What is the cause of the deadly forest fires in Hawaii? Climate Communications Yale. Climate Communications at Yale University. https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2023/08/what-caused-the-deadly-hawaii-wildfires/
Voyland, A., and Dauphine, L. (2023, August 10). Destruction in Maui. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/151688/devastation-in-maui
Nugent, A.D., Longman, RJ, Trawernecht, C., Lucas, MB, Diaz, H.F., and Giampiluca, TW (2020). Fire and Rain: The Legacy of Hurricane Lane in Hawaii. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 101(6), E954-E967. https://doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-19-0104.1