55 Dead in Maui Wildfire, Recovery to Take Years

Devastating wildfires in Maui have claimed the lives of a minimum of 55 individuals, and Hawaiian authorities warn the numbers may grow. The beautiful resort town of Lahaina faces the brunt of the destruction, and recovery is anticipated to span years with costs projected in the billions.

Gov. Josh Green characterized the massive blaze that left Lahaina in ruins as the state’s most catastrophic natural event, displacing thousands and decimating around 1,000 structures.

“We foresee a lengthy restoration journey for Lahaina,” expressed Green during a media briefing, revealing plans to accommodate those displaced in local hotels and vacation rentals.

Green emphasized the rebirth of Lahaina, reflecting Maui’s essence and principles, noting the town’s attraction of nearly 80% of the island’s annual 2 million tourists.

Originating last Tuesday, the fire, fueled by parched landscapes and 60 mph (100 kph) wind gusts, swept through Lahaina, the former Hawaiian Kingdom’s capital. It’s one among three significant ongoing wildfires on Maui.

As firefighting teams diligently tackle the remnants and rescue personnel scour for those unaccounted for, federal aid and resources are being dispatched.

Specialized cadaver dogs from states like California and Washington have been brought in to assist in the search amidst the debris. Maui Police Chief John Pelletier emphasized the reverence the town holds, particularly in recovering those lost.

Widespread evacuations were conducted, particularly from Maui’s western region, home to approximately 166,000 inhabitants. Many sought refuge within Maui or shifted to Oahu. Kahului Airport became a temporary haven for tourists awaiting outbound flights.

Gov. Green mentioned the disaster’s magnitude potentially eclipsing the 1960 tsunami which took 61 lives in Hawaii’s Big Island.

Harrowing escape stories emerge, like that of Vixay Phonxaylinkham, a tourist who, with his family, sought safety in the Pacific waters to evade the flames. Describing his traumatic experience, Phonxaylinkham recalled the terrifying explosions and the distress of knowing some couldn’t escape.

Others recounted the scorching heat and the ensuing panic. Nicoangelo Knickerbocker, a 21-year-old Lahaina local, described the horrific scene, likening it to a war zone, as he fled with just the clothes on his back and the family pet.

Lahaina’s cherished landmarks’ fate remains uncertain. Notably, the iconic 60-foot (18-meter) banyan tree, a relic of Hawaiian King Kamehameha III’s era, though still erect, shows signs of damage.

Regarding containment, Maui County reported 80% of the Lahaina fire controlled. The Pulehu fire, situated eastward, was 70% contained, while the status of the central Upcountry fire remains undisclosed.

Recent wildfire scenes echo globally, with countries like Greece, Spain, and Portugal experiencing similar devastation. Western Canada’s intense blazes have adversely impacted U.S. air quality.

Experts highlight the escalating frequency of such extreme events, attributing them to human-induced climate shifts due to fossil fuels. The growing urgency for emission cuts is deemed essential to avert a looming climate crisis.