Maui Wild Fire Devastation and What You Can do To Help.

Maui Wild Fire Devastation and What You Can do To Help.

  • Mick St John
  • 08/15/23

Maui, Hawaii. A beautiful island in the middle of the pacific ocean, full of vibrant culture, beautiful local communities and an economy that is fueled by the spirit of Aloha. This small but mighty island is my home where I was born and raised, and right now it is in dire need of help. At the time of writing this, it is August 15th, 2023. The town of Lahaina has been wiped off the map by raging wild fires, Kula has lost over 1000 acres of land along with many homes and our communities are suffering beyond words. In this blog, I hope to highlight the situation and provide valuable information that you can use to make a difference for the people of Maui. Here's an overview of the events that transpired.

(Image Source: Instagram @mauirippers_official)

1. The Outbreak of the Fires

This started when hurricane Dora was reported to hit the Hawaiian Islands. In Hawaii, we are extremely used to tropical storms because while they don't happen often, they do happen consistently. Typically rain and wind that will do very minimal or next to zero damage around the island. However, Hurricane Dora was different. Typically our tropicals storms are broken up by the vast landscapes on Big Island (Hawaii). This time though, the storm passed Big Island (Hawaii) and Maui was hit by 80 mph gale force winds. This caused power lines across the island to get ripped out of the ground, causing massive sparks to fly in every direction from these downed power lines.

The area's that were hit the hardest were Kula and Lahaina. It is reported that the fires that took place in Kihei were actually from the embers traveling down from mountain which ignited dry patches in Kihei. Over the years, Lahaina has slowly grown to be one of the driest parts of the entire island, making it very susceptible to wild fires. Most years, there are small fires that happen, and they are handled immediately with no real damages. But upon the arrival of Hurricane Dora, 80 mph winds, live power lines spreading sparks in every direction, the severe drought West Maui is facing and the density of homes nearby. This combination created a wildfire so intense, so horrific and so hot that within just several hours, the historic town of Lahaina was reduced to ash and molten metals.

 

2. Response and Evacuations

Now I am going to be completely honest in this blog/article. From friends of mine, from families, from timestamped videos from the people of Lahaina. We have a pretty good idea about the response and evacuation that took place. To put it frankly. There was none... There was no warning, there were no sirens, there were no signs telling families to flee from Lahaina to safety. Some families reported smelling toxic smoke, looking outside to see flames engulfing their homes and within 15 minutes, their entire neighborhood was on fire. There are videos and reports of people fleeing in cars with 1,200 degree fires melting the buildings on both sides of the street as they drove away. People literally had to dive into the Lahaina harbor in order to swim away from the sea of flames that covered the land.

This all happened so fast, the entire island barely had any time to react. Lahaina was burnt to the ground by the end of the night, 1000 acres of Kula land had been decimated and the embers traveled down the mountain starting fires in Kihei. The response from the authorities was that they spread out, fighting the fires across the island. However, I have heard reports directly from the victims in Lahaina that when this all transpired, the fire was initially very small in Lahaina, that the authorities had stopped it, deemed it under control and left Lahaina to fight the Kula fires. Moments after this, the live electrical poles (which should have been turned off by this point), reignited the fires, causes the devastation that you see today.

Local authorities acted as swiftly as they could, deploying firefighters and emergency personnel to combat the flames. However from the opinion of thousands, upon thousands of local families who had their lives destroyed, it was an extremely bad judgement call to leave the Lahaina fire, when it was not fully put out yet. The following day, the response time, not from the government, but of the people of Maui was so decisive, so unbelievably swift, that we had thousands of people bringing in clothes, medicine, food, water, survival gear and more. These supplies were delivered by the car full, by boats where people who pull up on the beach and run it to families needing help, helicopters were dropping in supplies and small planes were bringing in medicine.

All of this, came from Private Citizens, privately owned companies, local business owners, cousins, aunties, uncles, brothers and sisters who just wanted to save their fellow islanders. I know this because I was one of the people driving frantically to deliver as much supplies as I possibly could afford and seeing how quickly the people of Maui came together to help those in need, was incredible.

With regards to Red Cross and FEMA, they came 4 days after the fires started. There are many social media accounts that have documented all of this.

The two that I would recommend because of how quickly they report on events are kakoo_haleakala and hhhnewz

 

3. Impact on Local Communities and Economy

2,207 structures According to the Pacific Disaster Center, an estimated total of 2,719 structures were exposed to the Lahaina fire; 2,207 structures were destroyed; and 2,170 acres burned and thousands of residents have been displaced. Of the buildings exposed to the fire, 86% were classified as residential. With road closures and safety concerns, many tourists postponed or canceled their trips, per the request of both locals, the government and airlines. Leading to a decline in tourism revenue for the month. Some tour companies have continued to take tourists on tours, some being brazen, and more accurately, disgusting enough to go snorkeling less than a mile away from where so many people perished in the Lahaina harbor just a few days ago.

The confirmed death toll in the wildfires that swept through Maui this week rose to 106 on Tuesday, August 15th, as more than 1,000 people remained unaccounted. However local families who are on scene have estimated the death toll is going to be a lot higher than 106 by the end of this. Every resident of Maui and neighboring islands is currently doing their part to help those who have lost someone and to find those that have perished or are missing.

 

4. Environmental Impact

Maui is home to a rich variety of flora and fauna. The fires threatened not just human habitats but also the habitats of numerous species unique to the island. Environmentalists expressed concerns over the potential loss of biodiversity and the long-term impact on the island's ecosystem. The fires also posed a threat to the water sources for  Lahaina and Kula. Due to the Upcountry wildfire, some structures in the Upper Kula system were destroyed by the fire, and some areas in the water system lost pressure.

These conditions may have caused harmful contaminants, including benzene and other volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), to enter the water system. The county is currently in the process of getting this fixed. The entire North Shore, East Maui, Central Maui and South Maui are unaffected by this.

 

5. Community Solidarity and Support

In the face of adversity, the Maui community showcased remarkable resilience and unity. Local businesses, organizations, and residents came together to support those affected by the fires. Fundraisers were organized, and donations poured in to assist with relief efforts. The spirit of Aloha is powerful and it shows by how the community rallied to help one another during this crisis. Organizations such as Help Maui Fire, Hawaii Community Foundation, and Maui United Way played pivotal roles in the relief efforts.

6. Current Status and Recovery Efforts

As of the end of August, the fires have been largely contained, thanks to the relentless efforts of firefighters and emergency personnel. Recovery efforts are now in full swing, with authorities focusing on rebuilding and supporting affected communities. Environmentalists and local organizations like Maui Rapid Response and Maui Food Bank are also working on restoration projects to rehabilitate the damaged ecosystems.

7. Rehabilitation and The Path Forward

The aftermath of the fires brought forth a mammoth task: rehabilitation. Collaboration between Maui citizens, private companies, local, state, and federal entities lay the groundwork for a comprehensive recovery plan. Infrastructure restoration, habitat recovery, and community rebuilding became top priorities.

For those looking to contribute, a plethora of organizations stepped up their relief efforts. The best place to see these resources is here: A List of Resources for Companies Helping to Save Maui emerged as a comprehensive guide for contributors. Organizations like the Hawaii Community Foundation and Maui United Way spearheaded relief operations. The Hungry Hero's Hawaii team, with its agile approach, played a pivotal role in immediate relief measures. That coupled with the private companies based out of Maui, the local families who are all from the island and citizens who love Maui dearly, have all come together to join forces and saved our beloved Lahaina town.

Ensuring food security in these trying times, the Maui Food Bank swung into action. Other stalwarts like the Salvation Army and the Maui Humane Society expanded their operations, catering to the diverse needs of the affected populace.

Further, entities like the Temple of Peace Non-Profit, Pacific Birth Collective, The Kai Foundation, GoFundMe Maui Wildfire Relief Effort, Habitat For Humanity, and the Lahaina Restoration Foundation provided specialized support, addressing niche areas of the rehabilitation process.

 

Conclusion: Resilience in the Face of Adversity

The Maui fires of August 2023, while a testament to nature's unpredictable fury, also underscored the resilience and unity of the human spirit powered by the Maui Ohana. As the island sets on a path of recovery, the collective efforts of its denizens, coupled with global support, promise a brighter future. The fires, though devastating, have sown the seeds of unity, resilience, and an unwavering spirit of Aloha. With time and concerted efforts, Maui is poised to reclaim its lost glory, emerging stronger and more vibrant than ever.

 

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*Note: Some of the information within this article is based on information sourced from Hawaii News Now , Maui Now, and other news outlets. While other parts of this article are from local citizens, interviews and on-scene footage procured from apps such as Instagram and Tiktok. It provides an overview of the events and is not an exhaustive account of the fires in Maui during August 2023.*

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