What Caused the Deadly Maui Fires?

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by Dr. Joseph Mercola, Mercola:

STORY AT-A-GLANCE
  • August 8, 2023, wildfires broke out in the western part of Maui, burning down an estimated 2,000 acres, including the historical port town of Lahaina, where most of the buildings were destroyed, including many of the homes of its 13,000 residents, many of whom are indigenous and have lived there for generations
  • The fire was fueled by hurricane-strength winds of 60 to 90 mph from Hurricane Dora, which passed some 500 miles south of Hawaii

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  • Four years ago, Clay Trauernicht, an environmental management expert, warned that allowing nonnative, highly flammable grassland savannas take over native ecosystems was worsening the risk of devastating wildfires
  • As Hurricane Dora was approaching, local news predicted the risk of fire would be high due to downed powerlines, dry brush and low humidity. Maui residents are now suing the power company for keeping “powerlines energized during forecasted high fire danger conditions”
  • Some people, including Maui residents, suspect a directed energy weapon was used to set Lahaina ablaze to facilitate a land grab. Residents have long resisted offers to sell their land, and private land developers are already making offers to purchase their scorched properties

August 8, 2023, multiple wildfires broke out in the western and central parts of Maui, burning down an estimated 2,000 acres, including the historical port town of Lahaina. Strangely enough, satellite images show the fires all began around the same time.

The fires — fueled by hurricane-strength 60 to 90 mph winds from Hurricane Dora, which passed some 500 miles south of Hawaii1 — ripped across the landscape at a pace of 1 mile per minute (that’s 60 mph folks).2 In addition to the fire’s rapid spread, the local warning system also failed. As a result, many residents didn’t realize they were in danger until smoke billowed into their homes.

The death toll appears to have been further exacerbated by the fact that schools closed and children were sent home. Many parents remained at work, and because the warning sirens didn’t go off, many children were burned alive in their own homes.

According to Gov. Josh Green, the warning sirens may have been “immobilized” by heat from the fire, but the exact cause for the failure is still under investigation.3 However, Maui also has a cellphone alert system. You may recall Maui residents received a false alert on their phones about an inbound missile threat five years ago.4 Even if the sirens had been destroyed by fire, why wasn’t a cellphone alert dispatched?

emergency alert

Deadliest Natural Disaster in a Century

As of August 15, the death toll stood at 99, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century, and the worst natural disaster in Maui’s history. With only one-quarter of the burned-out area having been searched, and with 1,300 people still reported missing, the number of dead was expected to rise significantly.

In Lahaina, most of the buildings were destroyed, including many of the homes of its 13,000 residents,5 many of whom are indigenous and have lived there for generations.

According to Green, the property losses are estimated at $5.6 billion.6 When asked by a Bloomberg reporter to comment on the historical disaster, President Biden, who was on vacation at the time, had “no comment.”7

This tragic event saddens me as I spent many cold Chicago winters in Maui and have visited Lahaina dozens, if not hundreds of times. I purchased a lot on the hill above the town where the fire first started, before it slid down to Lahaina. Fifteen years ago, I decided to sell it because the time zones did not work out well for managing the newsletter. The entire area where my property was located was burned to the ground.

What Caused This Unprecedented Disaster?

While some government officials, including Gov. Green, are trying to blame the disaster on global warming, climate scientists believe it played only a minor role. As reported by ABC News:8

“Climate change may have amplified the conditions that led to the inferno that decimated a large portion of the island of Maui but it cannot be blamed.

An unknown spark on Tuesday night quickly set parts of the island ablaze, sending flames fueled by a combination of strong trade winds and a landscape parched by drought conditions through the historic Lahaina district and people’s homes.

Despite how quickly the devastation unfolded, climate scientists are warning that climate change may have only played a minor role. Moreover, wildfires have the ‘lowest confidence’ among natural disasters that researchers attribute to climate change, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.9

‘We should not look to the Maui wildfires as a poster child of the link to climate change,’ Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said … The weather and climate factors involved with the Maui wildfire event are more complex, Swain said.”

Obvious and Not-so-Obvious Factors

Two obvious factors are that a) it’s dry season in Maui (which is entirely normal), and b) brisk winds from Hurricane Dora fanned the flames, allowing the fire to spread by leaps and bounds. A less obvious factor is the decision to allow nonnative, highly flammable grassland savannas take over native ecosystems.

Clay Trauernicht, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and an environmental management expert, warned about this in a 2019 letter to the editor of The Maui News, stating, “The fuels — all that grass — is the one thing that we can directly change to reduce the fire risk.”10

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. also highlighted the role that poor land management may have played in this catastrophe. In an August 14, 2023, Substack article, Kennedy wrote:11

“Specific measures that can limit the destructiveness of wildfires, tropical fire specialists say, include building firebreaks, reintroducing fire-resistant vegetation, and allowing livestock to keep grasses at a manageable level. Right now, in short, Maui needs a massive land restoration program …

Healthy ecosystems regulate the flood-drought cycle and mitigate wildfires. They draw down carbon, too. Restoring the land is an achievable goal that will have an immediate effect on wildfires, in contrast to long-term efforts to address climate change, a contributing factor but not the primary cause of these fires.”

In the video above, Kennedy interviews Maui resident Ed Dowd about the situation. Yet another relatively common but rarely acknowledged cause of wildfires is poorly maintained power company equipment and/or downed or damaged powerlines.

In this case, as Hurricane Dora made its approach, local news predicted the risk of fire would be high due to downed powerlines, dry brush and low humidity, and Maui residents are now suing the power company for keeping “powerlines energized during forecasted high fire danger conditions.”12

In 2022, Hawaii Electric, which services Maui, proposed a detailed wildfire mitigation plan with a price tag of $2.5 million,13 but according to investigative journalist Lee Fang,14 “the state utility commission dragged its feet” when it came to implementation.

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