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

by Madison Thomas
fokus keyword Maui wildfires

Hawaii is witnessing an increasing frequency of disasters, with a particular surge in wildfires, as indicated by a thorough analysis of Federal Emergency Management Agency records by Big Big News. Such instances appear to contrast with the popular perception of Hawaii as a paradise, but the data shows it is one of the most risk-prone states in America.

Disasters such as flash floods induced by hurricanes, mudslides, creeping lava, sudden yet lingering droughts, earthquakes, and the recent fatal fires that have ravaged historic areas have put Hawaii in a state of continuous threat. The most significant increase is seen in wildfires.

According to Debarati Guha-Sapir, the director of the international disasters database at Belgium’s Catholic University of Louvain, Hawaii is susceptible to a wide array of climate and geological calamities, including storms, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.

Recent incidents have heightened the danger in Hawaii. Within this month, the federal government has declared six different fire emergencies in the state. This is equivalent to the total number of fire disasters recorded from 1953 to 2003.

Nationwide, the acres burned by wildfires have approximately tripled since the 1980s, partly due to a drier climate resulting from global warming. In Hawaii, the burned area has expanded more than five times during the same period, as per data from the University of Hawaii Manoa.

Residents like Victoria Martocci, who has lived in Maui for roughly 25 years, recognize this growing threat. Fires, which once occurred biennially or annually, have become more frequent over the last decade. Martocci herself lost her boat and business to a fire in Lahaina.

From 1953 to 2003, Hawaii averaged one federally declared disaster every two years. Now, it averages over two annually, reflecting an almost four-fold increase. The situation is even grimmer with wildfires, which have gone from one federally declared disaster roughly every nine years to one annually since 2004.

People like Linda Hunt, who had to evacuate during the state’s largest wildfire in 2021, are advocating for a significant increase in spending on firefighting equipment and personnel, as they are stretched thin.

FEMA’s risk assessments show that the risk index in Maui County is higher than nearly 88% of counties in the country, while Hawaii’s Big Island has a higher risk index than 98% of U.S. counties.

Though a 2022 state emergency management report categorized wildfire as a “low” risk, it is the leading cause of Hawaii’s federally declared disasters, even surpassing floods, severe storms, and hurricanes. The state has more federally declared fire disasters per square mile than any other.

Changes in land use and vegetation, including the decline in agriculture and ranching since the 1990s and the replacement of crops with flammable grasslands, contribute to this “explosive fire behavior,” says University of Hawaii’s fire scientist Clay Trauernicht. Climate change is expected to exacerbate this issue.

Flash droughts and storm-like winds from distant hurricanes also contribute to the spread of fires. Experts acknowledge the difficulty in isolating the effects of climate change from other factors in Hawaii’s rising disasters, but there is a global increase in weather-related catastrophes.

Hawaii’s isolation often makes it more resilient after disasters, yet the frequent mishaps challenge the typical view of the islands as a place of escape and exotic beauty. Residents like Martocci admit that living in paradise feels secure 99% of the time, but recent events have served as a sobering reality check for areas like West Maui.

Big Big News correspondents from various locations contributed to this report, and their climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. All content responsibility lies with AP, and more can be followed on their social media handles and website.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about fokus keyword Hawaii

What types of disasters are increasingly affecting Hawaii?

Hawaii is experiencing a rise in various disasters, including hurricane-fueled flash floods, mudslides, lava flows, earthquakes, droughts, and particularly wildfires, which are escalating the most.

How have wildfires changed in Hawaii over the past few decades?

The burned area in Hawaii has increased more than five times since the 1980s, with wildfires becoming more frequent and destructive. Changes in land use and the growth of flammable grasslands have contributed to this rise, along with climate change.

What is the public perception of Hawaii in light of these increasing disasters?

Despite the increasing frequency and intensity of these disasters, many still view Hawaii as a paradise. The recent surge in disasters is beginning to challenge this perception, serving as a significant reality check for some residents.

How has the federal government responded to the wildfires in Hawaii?

The federal government has declared several fire disasters in Hawaii, with six different fire emergencies being declared within a single month recently. There is also a call for increased spending on fire gear, personnel, prevention, and preparedness.

What are the factors contributing to the explosive fire behavior in Hawaii?

The explosive fire behavior in Hawaii can be attributed to changes in land use, the decline in agriculture and ranching since the 1990s, replacement of crops with grasslands that burn easily, and climate change. Flash droughts and storm-like winds from distant hurricanes have also contributed.

Are wildfires considered a significant risk in Hawaii’s state emergency management report?

Interestingly, a 2022 state emergency management report categorized wildfire as a “low” risk, despite fire being the leading cause of Hawaii’s federally declared disasters. The state has more federally declared fire disasters per square mile than any other state.

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Sarah_L August 17, 2023 - 12:16 pm

I live in maui and the fires have been really scary lately. lots of my friends are worried and some even lost their homes. we need more help from the government.

TomRider August 17, 2023 - 7:56 pm

Climate change is making things worse everywhere. Even a beautiful place like Hawaii is not immune. This is a wake-up call for all of us.

MikeT August 18, 2023 - 4:17 am

This stuff is serious. Drought, wildfire, flood all happening in a place thats supposed to be paradise? what a reality check

Becca M. August 18, 2023 - 5:58 am

my heart goes out to everyone in Hawaii. It’s still paradise but these natural disasters are a reminder that no place is completely safe from Mother Nature’s wrath.

Jenny K. August 18, 2023 - 7:40 am

cant believe what’s happening in Hawaii right now! Was planning to go there for vacation but now I’m thinking twice.


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