Maui Disaster Update: Here’s What We Know
The violent wildfire that swept through the picturesque town of Maui, Hawaii, is already considered the deadliest fire recorded in the United States in the last century. While residents mourned the dead and missing, authorities warned that the total number of human and environmental casualties was not yet known and that recovery from the destruction caused by the flames was just beginning.
Hawaii Governor Josh Green said more than 2,700 structures were destroyed in Lahaina, and the death toll has exceeded 90 and may rise. The estimated damage is around $6 billion.
HOW MANY PEOPLE DIED AND HOW MANY ARE MISSING?
The governor, Josh Green, tweeted about the current situation, on the 16th, detailing in a video the number of fatalities. It’s still unclear exactly how many people are missing.
“It’s going to increase,” the governor commented on Saturday as he toured the devastation on historic Front Street. “…We can only hope and support those who are alive. Our focus now is to bring people together when we can, give them housing and health care, and then get back and rebuild.”
Until the night of Saturday, the 12th, the authorities had confirmed the identities of only two victims and had barely begun to search the disaster zone with canine teams. Authorities attributed the pace of response, which many residents criticized as too slow, to the overwhelming nature of the destruction and the remoteness of Maui, which made it difficult for out-of-state search parties to arrive.
What Caused the Maui Fires?
It remains unclear exactly what triggered the wildfires in Hawaii. “We don’t know what really started the fires. But we were informed in advance by the National Weather Service that we are in a red flag situation,” the leader of the Hawaii National Guard said on Thursday. He said three factors set the stage for fire risks: dry months, low humidity, and strong winds.
As the planet warms, it’s clear that even a tropical place like Hawaii, known for its rainforests and lush hills, is increasingly susceptible to wildfires. The islands have long had arid stretches of lava fields and drier grasslands, with rainfall varying from one side of the island to the other. In recent years, the state has also seen long-term declines in average annual precipitation, thinner cloud cover, and drought-induced by rising temperatures.
What Areas Were Affected By The Hawaii Wildfires?
Fires severely affected Maui and destroyed hundreds of acres in regions such as Kula, North Kohala, and South Kohala. The sprawling resort town of Lahaina in west Maui, which has about 13,000 people, was also hit hard. Hawaii Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke said the historic town was “decimated” and “changed forever”. The Pioneer Inn in Lahaina, the oldest continually operating hotel in Hawaii, was destroyed.
ARE THE FIRES CONTAINED?
According to a statement released by Maui County, as of Monday, August 14, the fire in Kula was 65% contained. In Lahaina, 85% of the fire had been contained, while in Puleu the estimate was 100% containment.
Authorities point out, however, that even when a fire is 100% contained, it does not mean that it has been extinguished, but rather that firefighters have the fire completely surrounded by a perimeter, within which it can still burn. The only fire so far declared extinct by Maui County was in Kaanapali.
BEZOS’ DONATION TO THE DISASTER
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, and his fiancée, Lauren Sánchez, have declared that they will donate US$ 100 million to “help Maui get back on his feet now and in the years to come.” The announcement was made by Lauren in a post on Instagram on Friday, as a result of one of the biggest natural disasters in the history of Hawaii, considered the deadliest fire in the United States in the last century.
“Jeff and I are heartbroken over what is happening in Maui. We are thinking of all the families that have lost so much and a community that has been devastated,” Lauren wrote. She added, “Jeff and I are creating a Maui Fund and dedicating $100 million to help Maui get back on its feet now and for years to come as continued needs unfold.”
Bezos is part of a list of high-profile millionaires, including Oprah Winfrey and Peter Thiel, who have homes in Maui. On Sunday, the 14th, Oprah visited an emergency shelter on the fire-ravaged island of Maui to highlight the plight of residents. She said she had delivered toiletries, towels, and water over the past few days.