Fires and other disasters are increasing in Hawaii, according to this AP data analysis

by Chloe Baker
fokus keyword Maui wildfires

Hawaii has been experiencing an alarming surge in disasters, including flash floods, mudslides, earthquakes, lava intrusions, and intense droughts, as per the recent analysis of Associated Press data. However, the most significant escalation has been in wildfires.

According to a comprehensive review by Big Big News of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) records, wildfires are becoming a recurring reality that contradicts the typical perception of Hawaii as a paradise. The state has become one of the riskiest in the nation, exposed to a wide array of climate and geological threats including storms, floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanoes.

Recent images from Hawaii depict scenes of destruction and chaos – lava from Mauna Loa volcano near Hilo, earthquake damage inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, properties destroyed by fire near Waimea, and flooded streets in Honolulu.

This month, the federal government declared six different fire disasters in Hawaii, the same number that was recorded in the state from 1953 to 2003.

Nationwide, the number of acres consumed by wildfires has roughly tripled since the 1980s, with drier climate due to global warming as one of the contributing factors. In Hawaii, the burned area has increased more than five times during the same period, as per data from the University of Hawaii Manoa.

Long-term residents like Victoria Martocci have witnessed this change firsthand. Wildfires have become more frequent, causing loss and destruction to local businesses and livelihoods.

The analysis of FEMA records shows that Hawaii now averages more than two federally declared disasters a year, a four-fold increase from previous averages. Particularly, the frequency of wildfires has increased significantly, with the state now experiencing one federally declared fire disaster every year on average since 2004.

For Native Hawaiians and locals, the increasing intensity and frequency of wildfires have led to calls for increased spending on fire prevention, gear, and personnel. The situation has been exacerbated by factors such as drought, storm-like winds, and changes in land use, which have resulted in easily flammable grasslands.

Risk indexes in Maui County and Hawaii’s Big Island reflect higher levels of risk compared to most U.S. counties. Surprisingly, a 2022 state emergency management report categorized wildfire as a “low” risk, despite it being the number one cause of Hawaii’s federally declared disasters.

In the 20th century, Hawaii averaged around 5,000 acres burned per year, but now, it’s up to 15,000 to 20,000 acres, according to Clay Trauernicht, a fire scientist at the University of Hawaii Manoa. He attributes this alarming increase to changes in land use, particularly a decline in plantation agriculture and ranching, replaced by grasslands that burn quickly and easily.

The explosive fire behavior is also linked to the dryness of grasses and flash droughts, which have been more common due to human-induced climate change. An April study further confirmed this phenomenon.

Weather experts also point to the interplay between wildfires and other weather extremes, like storms. Though it’s challenging to single out the effects of climate change from other factors, there’s a worldwide increase in weather-related disasters, with Hawaii being significantly affected.

Despite being isolated and usually self-sufficient, Hawaii’s increasing vulnerability to disasters has challenged the perception of the state as a serene paradise. Residents like Martocci acknowledge that living in paradise now comes with a reality check.

The increase in disaster occurrences in Hawaii has been reported by Seth Borenstein from Washington and Bobby Caina Calvan from Hartford, Connecticut, with contribution from Big Big News reporter Mike Casey in Boston. You can follow further climate and environment coverage at Big Big News’ website.

Big Big News’ climate and environmental reporting is supported by various private foundations, but the content is solely the responsibility of the Associated Press.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about fokus keyword Hawaii disasters

What types of disasters are increasing in Hawaii according to the analysis?

Flash floods, mudslides, earthquakes, lava intrusions, droughts, and particularly wildfires are all escalating in Hawaii, posing significant threats to the region.

What is the most significant escalation among these disasters in Hawaii?

Wildfires have been the most significant escalation, with a surge in both frequency and intensity, challenging the traditional perception of Hawaii as a paradise.

What are the underlying factors contributing to the increase in wildfires in Hawaii?

The increase in wildfires in Hawaii is attributed to human-induced climate change, changes in land use such as the decline in plantation agriculture and ranching, the presence of easily flammable grasslands, and the occurrence of flash droughts.

How has the frequency of federally declared fire disasters changed in Hawaii?

Hawaii has gone from averaging one federally declared fire disaster every nine years to one a year on average since 2004. In just this month, six different fire disasters were declared, equal to the total from 1953 to 2003.

How are the residents of Hawaii reacting to the increased frequency of wildfires?

Residents are expressing concern and calling for increased spending on fire prevention, gear, and personnel. Long-term residents have noticed the change firsthand, and there has been a realization that living in Hawaii now comes with new risks.

What was the state’s response or categorization of wildfire risk in the 2022 emergency management report?

Surprisingly, the 2022 state emergency management report listed wildfire as a “low” risk, despite fire being the number one cause of Hawaii’s federally declared disasters, far outpacing other risks like floods, storms, and hurricanes.

How does the situation in Hawaii fit into the broader context of climate change?

The increase in disasters in Hawaii, particularly wildfires, reflects a global trend of weather-related catastrophes exacerbated by human-caused climate change. The dryness of grasses, flash droughts, and the synergy between wildfires and other weather extremes are indicative of broader climate change effects.

More about fokus keyword Hawaii disasters

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Mandy T. August 18, 2023 - 1:12 am

Who would of thought wildfire would be such an issue in Hawaii of all places! I thought it was all about beaches and hula dancers.

Tara_S August 18, 2023 - 5:47 am

The numbers are staggering, from one disaster every 9 years to one a year since 2004! What’s happening? How can we ignore climate change now… the evidence is all here.

Sam Jons August 18, 2023 - 8:51 am

It’s really shockin how much disasters are happenin in Hawaii. paradise isnt what it used to be, thoughts?

Kevin42 August 18, 2023 - 10:01 am

I visited Maui once and it was beautiful. its sad to think how much its changing. Maybe we should all pay attention and do something to help.


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