Maui officials and scientists warn that after the flames flicker out, toxic particles will remain

by Andrew Wright

Maui authorities and scientists are issuing warnings that even after the flames have been extinguished, hazardous particles will persist. When wildfires raged through the western part of Maui, including Lahaina town, the local residents witnessed the release of toxic fumes into the atmosphere as homes, pipes, and vehicles burned. These materials, such as rubber, metal, and plastic, were transformed into harmful particulate-laden smoke.

Thomas Leonard, a retired mailman and Vietnam veteran, heard an explosion as a propane tank nearby blew up, creating a cloud reminiscent of a massive mushroom. Mike Cicchino, a 37-year-old who grew up on Maui, gauged the proximity of the flames by the sound of exploding gas tanks in cars. Taking refuge in the ocean, he experienced physical discomfort, with swollen eyes, aching ribs, and vomiting.

The devastation prompted approximately 46,000 residents and visitors to leave West Maui, with more than 90 fatalities and extensive damage reported. Beyond the loss of life and property, officials are concerned about the lingering toxic remnants in areas affected by the fire. Some residents have started returning to their homes, encountering melted vehicles, flattened houses, and scorched elevator shafts where apartments once stood. However, authorities emphasize that even in areas where the immediate destruction has subsided, it’s still unsafe to return, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is assessing potential hazards.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen emphasized the hazardous conditions in a news conference, stating that experts are present for a reason and that rushing back would only endanger people’s health. Hawaii’s state toxicologist Diana Felton mentioned that it could take considerable time to clean up the pollutants.

Scientists’ warnings about the aftermath of fires are taken seriously by officials. Lasting health risks can remain in the air and water even after fires are extinguished, leading to prolonged recovery efforts, exacerbating residents’ suffering, and complicating the island’s tourism-driven economy.

Toxicologist Andrew Whelton from Purdue University’s Center for Plumbing Safety noted that fires like the one in Maui create a trail of destruction that includes a variety of unpredictable toxins due to burning various materials. Airborne pollutants settle on the ground and must be carefully removed by emergency teams to prevent inhalation. Melted pipes also pose a threat to water supplies, as seen in the unsafe water alert issued for certain areas. Even though these hazards might be less visible than charred landscapes, they can extend beyond the burnt zones due to the dispersion of smoke plumes.

Whelton advises people returning to affected areas to take precautions such as wearing protective gear, covering limbs, and following evacuation orders to avoid exposure to hazardous particles.

(Original text source: Associated Press)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Wildfire aftermath

What happened during the wildfire in Maui?

Flames swept through western Maui, including Lahaina town, leading to the combustion of homes, pipes, and cars. This created toxic fumes and harmful particulate matter-filled smoke.

How did residents react during the wildfire?

Residents described witnessing toxic fumes in the air due to burning materials. Some sought refuge in the ocean, while others experienced physical discomfort from exposure to the fumes.

How many people were affected by the wildfire?

Approximately 46,000 residents and visitors evacuated West Maui, and over 90 fatalities were reported.

What concerns do authorities have after the fire?

Authorities are worried about the presence of lingering toxic byproducts in areas affected by the fire. These substances pose health risks to returning residents.

What precautions are being taken for residents returning home?

Officials emphasize that even in areas where immediate destruction has subsided, it’s unsafe to return due to potential hazards. Protective gear is recommended, and evacuation orders should be followed.

How long could the recovery process take?

Hawaii’s state toxicologist mentioned that cleaning up pollutants could take weeks or months, considering the extent of the damage.

What is the impact on the island’s economy?

The lasting health hazards and the complexity of recovery could prolong the return to normalcy, affecting the island’s tourism-driven economy.

What precautions are advised regarding water and showers?

Residents are advised not to drink running water in certain areas due to contamination risks. Short, lukewarm showers in well-ventilated rooms are recommended to avoid chemical vapor exposure.

What challenges do these wildfires pose for experts?

Unlike other types of pollution, the unpredictability of materials burned in these fires makes it challenging to fully understand the range of toxins emitted.

How far can the hazards extend beyond burnt areas?

Airborne pollutants can travel with smoke plumes and settle in areas beyond the fire’s immediate reach, posing risks to those returning.

What measures are being taken to address these risks?

Emergency response teams are working to remove settled pollutants, and experts emphasize the importance of wearing protective gear and following safety guidelines.

More about Wildfire aftermath

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firefighter23 August 14, 2023 - 3:17 pm

maui wildfires rly messed things up, toxic junk everywhere. evac’s tough but necesry. hope they fix it soon!

islandExplorer August 14, 2023 - 3:21 pm

heard abt Maui’s fire, super scary stuff. toxic smoke after flames gone? omg. hope everyone’s ok!

surferChick August 15, 2023 - 1:32 am

Maui’s waves r epic, but now? fire & toxics? not cool at all. evac’s hard, but better than sick, ya kno?

beachBum12 August 15, 2023 - 2:54 am

maui fire = big disaster! peeps had 2 run, so sad. toxic mess, no joke. stay safe, Maui!

scienceNerd42 August 15, 2023 - 10:44 am

wildfires = bad news, man. toxic aftermath = big headache. stay away, wear masks. science is on it tho!


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