Maui’s Lahaina town is grappling with the aftermath of an unprecedented wildfire that claimed at least 55 lives on Thursday, marking it the most deadly wildfire in US history. The blaze, which has razed approximately 80% of the historic town, initiated on Tuesday and was exacerbated by hurricane-driven winds.
The rapid progression of the fire left residents with little time to flee. Some found themselves trapped on streets, while others, in a desperate bid for survival, jumped into the ocean. The tragic incident has been labeled by Governor Josh Green as “likely the largest natural disaster in Hawaii state history.”
Recalling a historical tragedy, Green mentioned, “In 1960, we mourned the loss of 61 lives due to a massive wave on the Big Island.” However, with the current count at 55 and the fire yet to be fully contained, he fears the death toll may surpass that number.
Brandon Wilson, a Canadian visitor, described the scene in Lahaina as resembling the aftermath of a bomb explosion, noting the complete devastation.
Recent extreme weather patterns have manifested across North America, from record-breaking wildfires in Canada to major heatwaves in the US southwest. Other parts of the world, including Europe and parts of Asia, have also grappled with soaring temperatures, large-scale fires, and devastating floods.
The skeletal remnants of trees eerily rise above the ruins of the town. Governor Green lamented the loss of iconic buildings, sharing, “Buildings that we’ve all enjoyed and celebrated together for decades, for generations, are completely destroyed.”
A massive relocation operation is underway, as thousands are now without homes. Governor Green highlighted the urgency of housing the affected, stating, “We are going to need to house thousands of people.” The call has gone out for local hotels and homeowners to offer accommodations.
President Joe Biden has designated the wildfire as a “major disaster,” ensuring federal aid is available for relief and rebuilding efforts which are expected to span years.
In a heart-wrenching account, US Coast Guard commander Aja Kirksey revealed the rescue of over 50 individuals who had plunged into the ocean to escape the inferno. However, for locals like Kekoa Lansford, the ordeal persists, as they deal with the grim reality of recovering bodies.
Maui Mayor Richard Bissen expressed shared grief, assuring, “In the days ahead, we will be stronger as a community, as we rebuild with resilience and aloha.”
The emergency has prompted a large-scale evacuation from Maui. Approximately 1,400 people await departure at Kahului’s main airport, with Maui County urging visitors to leave promptly. The economic implications are also palpable, as Maui accommodates about a third of Hawaii’s tourists.
With a hurricane exacerbating the wildfire, experts, including Thomas Smith from the London School of Economics, emphasize the anomalous nature of this year’s blazes in Hawaii, connecting them to global rising temperatures and subsequent climatic shifts.