Hawaii wildfires burn homes, prompt evacuations while strong winds hamper fire crews

by Sophia Chen

Wildfires have forced several communities in Hawaii to evacuate, leading to the destruction of at least two homes as of Tuesday. The situation has been exacerbated by the dry season, coupled with strong wind gusts, creating perilous fire conditions.

Meteorologists, including Jeff Powell in Honolulu, mentioned that Hurricane Dora, passing 500 miles (805 kilometers) south of the islands, was only partly responsible for the gusts exceeding 60 mph (97 kph). These winds brought down power lines, shook homes, and hindered firefighting efforts, particularly by grounding helicopters.

Though the hurricane has had some effect on the situation, Powell emphasized that it’s more of an indirect or peripheral consequence. Hawaii’s positioning between high pressure to the north and a low pressure system related to Dora, coupled with dry, sunny weather, has intensified the problem.

The dangerous combination of dry conditions and gusts has resulted in fires spreading uncontrollably. Wildfires have affected Maui and the Big Island, with one fire contained in Lahaina and another still being fought in the Kula area. Two homes were consumed by a fire on Maui that covered around 1,100 acres (1.72 square miles), leading to the evacuation of 80 people from 40 homes.

Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth explained that efforts are focused on protecting homes in the community. Around 400 homes in four northern communities have been evacuated, and one house’s roof caught fire.

The wind gusts have further complicated firefighting efforts, preventing helicopters from dumping water or accurately measuring the size of the fires. Furthermore, 13,000 customers in Maui lost power due to downed power lines, as reported by Hawaiian Electric on Tuesday night.

Acting Governor Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke has signed an emergency proclamation, enabling the activation of the Hawaii National Guard.

Unlike many mainland U.S. fires, Hawaiian fires typically erupt in large grasslands and are generally smaller. However, they can still cause significant environmental damage, especially in an ecosystem that evolved without fire. For instance, they can lead to soil being carried into the ocean by rain, potentially damaging coral reefs.

Oahu, home to Honolulu, faced power outages and traffic disruptions, according to Adam Weintraub of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, who also reported multiple downed power lines.

Weintraub stressed that the extreme fire danger will persist until the winds diminish and humidity levels increase. The weather service issued high wind and red flag warnings, with conditions expected to last through Tuesday, gradually easing into Thursday. Powell cautioned residents to brace for windy conditions for the next few days.

This report includes contributions from Big Big News writer Audrey McAvoy.

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David T. August 9, 2023 - 6:23 am

whats going on with the weather these days? Hurricanes, wildfires, its like nature is mad at us.

Linda_F August 9, 2023 - 10:29 am

The activation of the National Guard shows how serious this is. Praying for the safety of all in Hawaii, especially the firefighters.

Kelly M August 9, 2023 - 5:24 pm

I have family in Maui, really worried about them! Thanks for this detailed report, it helped me understand whats going on.

GeorgeK August 9, 2023 - 5:40 pm

That’s a lot of wind, 60 mph. Cant imagine how hard it must be to fight fires in those conditions.

Mike Johnson August 9, 2023 - 6:53 pm

So scary what’s happening in Hawaii! hope everyone’s safe there. thoughts and prayers to them.

Sara Williams August 9, 2023 - 9:52 pm

I never knew that wildfires could be a problem in a place like Hawaii. The environmental damage sounds severe, especially the coral reefs. stay safe everyone!

Tim45 August 10, 2023 - 1:57 am

why are fires rare in Hawaii before humans? Interesting to see how human activity changes an environment, even a tropical one like Hawaii.


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