Courtesy of Flickr

Maui fires death toll at 115, making it one of the deadliest wildfires in American history

By Emely Bonilla

The Lahaina wildfires that burned across Maui Aug. 8 was one of the deadliest wildfires to occur in American history, with 115 confirmed dead and 1,000 people still missing.

In a news release published Aug. 17 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, it stated there has yet to be a conclusive explanation to what started this wildfire, but there are many contributing factors to the fire spreading. Currently, there is an ongoing investigation to determine whether Hawaiian Electric, a power company, played a role in these fires. The County of Maui has reported that the most recent fires caused over $5 billion in damage and burned over 3 thousand acres.

Wildfires are natural disasters that have been seen all throughout the United States for decade, but as climate conditions become more extreme, they pose a greater threat now than ever. Dry states such as California, the most wildfire prone state, have seen an increase in the number of wildfires annually. Changes in climate have caused longer droughts and a general increase in heat, which can allow fires to spread more quickly than before.

Biology Professor Erin Questad previously conducted research on different types of invasive grasses in Hawaii and she mentioned the spread of this vegetation played a big role in the spread of the fires.

“In Maui there used to be a lot of sugarcane plantations and over the years those plantations got abandoned,” said Questad. “After they were abandoned, the invasive grasses really established in those old, open plantation areas. When those grasses get dry, they create like a very thick vegetation that we call fuel, that’s just ready to burn. That is one of the reasons that they spread so quickly.”

Historically, the islands have been a hub for trading, meaning there were ships traveling with different plants and animals, making them susceptible to many invasive species that are not acclimated to the climate of Hawaii and the potential natural disasters that come with it.

The burning of these large spaces is often detrimental to the ecosystems in the surrounding areas. The fires burn both native and non-native species in what is called a grass-fire cycle. When these invasive species are burnt the seeds are spread and able to regenerate quicker than the native plants that are suited for these types of disasters.

Once the communities of Maui begin to rebuild the cities that have been lost, it is necessary for a regenerative approach to be considered in hopes of protecting the community from wildfires such as this one.

Kristen Conway-Gómez, professor from the Department of Geography and Anthropology, feels there is hope in preventing a tragedy like this from happening again and reconstruction of architecture and agricultural plains can play a huge role in this prevention.

“I am sure that we could be able to come up with materials that are much more fire retardant that are not going to be harmful in terms of the gases they might put out,” said Conway-Gómez. “Regenerative studies would consider the orientation of the building … how we could build in a such a way that they’re taking advantage of wind pattern or even solar radiation patterns.”

Due to how frequent wildfires are in California legislation has been passed by the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection in hopes of protecting homes and communities. In states like Hawaii where wildfires are less prevalent, similar legislation has been in developmental phases, but not executed.

As we approach the most vulnerable time in wildfire season in California, it is important to prepare for these disasters. Authorities advise creating a go bag with safety essentials and hardening your home by using smart fire landscaping. For more information visit Cal Fire’s website.


Verified by MonsterInsights