The recent wildfires that swiftly spread across Maui resulted in numerous evacuations, destroyed homes, and claimed the lives of at least 36 individuals.
The fire unexpectedly started on Tuesday and rapidly advanced through parts of Lahaina, a historic town that has been popular among tourists since the 1700s. This incident is part of a string of extreme weather events witnessed worldwide this summer, including the record-breaking wildfires in Canada.
Let’s take a closer look at the 3 causes of the devastating Hawaiian wildfires.
1) Non-Native Vegetation
Despite Hawaii not being traditionally known for wildfires, researchers have observed a significant rise in recent years. Factors such as deforestation, abandonment of agricultural lands, and the introduction of non-native and fire-prone grasses have made Hawaii more vulnerable to fire incidents.
Experts pointed out that the vegetation in the lowland areas of Maui was particularly dry this year due to below-average precipitation during spring and summer.
Ze’ev Gedalof, an associate professor specializing in forestry and climatology at the University of Guelph, described the wildfires as an “inevitable event.” He emphasized that the natural vegetation in Hawaii is not adapted to wildfires and highlighted that nearly all the wildfires in the region are caused by human activities. Gedalof explained that once a fire starts, the landscape becomes highly combustible, and people residing in vulnerable areas are at significant risk.
According to Clay Trauernicht, a fire scientist at the University of Hawaii, the wet season causes invasive species like Guinea grass to grow rapidly. Guinea grass can grow six inches per day and eventually have a total height of 10 feet.
When these grasses dry out, they create an ideal environment for wildfires. Trauernicht warned that under hotter and drier conditions, along with variable rainfall, the situation worsens as the grasslands accumulate fuels at an accelerated rate.
2) High Winds
While the exact cause of the fires has yet to be determined, the US National Weather Service had previously issued warnings for high winds and dry weather conditions, which are conducive to wildfires.
The high winds caused by Hurricane Dora contributed to the spread of the fire in Hawaii. Trade winds, a normal occurrence in Hawaii’s climate, result from the movement of air between high and low-pressure systems.
Hurricane Dora intensified the low-pressure system, leading to stronger winds and exacerbating the fire. Céline Villeneuve, a resident of Maui, described witnessing the red sky and smoke caused by the fire.
3) Climate Change
Experts have also connected the Hawaiian wildfires to climate change. Climate change has been linked to increased temperatures and stronger hurricanes, which worsen the risk of wildfires. In this case, multiple factors combined to create the perfect conditions for a devastating fire.
Kelsey Copes-Gerbitz, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, emphasized that extreme wildfires can now occur anywhere and can spring up in unexpected ways.
Image Source: The Wall Street Journal, https://shorturl.at/bEV19