Hawaii, known for its resort getaways, stunning beaches, and rich cultural heritage, may not be the first place that comes to mind when considering places prone to wildfires. However, the Hawaiian islands have unfortunately seen their fair share of destructive blazes.
Hawaii’s susceptibility to wildfires is closely tied to its volcanic terrain, warming climate, and newly introduced plant species. Although fires were rare in the pre-settlement period, human activity and the introduction of non-native plants have significantly increased fire risks.
“On the other islands with less volcanic activity, fires did occur [in Hawaii], but very, very rarely,” Professor David Beilman of the University of Hawaii told USA Today. “[The recent fires] are an Anthropocene phenomenon,” he said, referring to the epoch defined by humanity’s influence over the planet.
And while Hawaii’s former biggest natural disaster threats were tsunamis, the impact of wildfires continues to grow. Here’s a look back at some of Hawaii’s biggest wildfires in recent history.
The West Maui Fires of 2023
The most recent of the wildfires is now recognized as the deadliest in all of U.S. history—having so far killed at least 93 people. Once again, the combination of dry brush, terrain, and windy conditions drove the widespread burning. This time, the powerful winds fanning the flames were generated by Hurricane Dora, a Category 4 storm that was moving across the Pacific Ocean hundreds of miles south of the Hawaiian islands.
The increase in fires comes as Maui has faced worsening drought conditions in recent years, according to federal data. Also, people have introduced new grass species and shrubs to the island that act as kindling in dry conditions.
The West Maui Fires of 2019
One of the most notable wildfire events occurred in 2019 when a series of fires swept through West Maui, endangering homes and wildlife while destroying the natural beauty of the area. The large fires burned roughly 25,000 acres of former sugarcane land and dry brush as Hawaii endured record-high temperatures. The blaze was further exacerbated by strong winds and dry conditions, which allowed flames to spread rapidly across the vegetation.
The West Maui Fires of 2018
In August 2018, brush fires broke out as Hurricane Lane neared Maui, as 70 mph gusts of wind fanned flames towards Lahaina. The fires engulfed more than 2,000 acres, 30 vehicles, and 21 structures and forced dozens to flee their homes, according to local newspaper The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
The storm should have been considered a "real-world wake-up" call for Hawaii, according to a 2019 planfrom the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.
The Waianae Kai Fire of 2013
In 2013, a massive wildfire raged through the Waianae Kai Forest Reserve, scorching thousands of acres of land. This fire had far-reaching ecological impacts, affecting native plant and animal species that rely on this unique habitat. Efforts to restore the damaged ecosystem have been ongoing.
Contact Morgan & Morgan for More Information
As the threat of wildfires continues to grow, people are increasingly at risk of serious injury. Sometimes these injuries can’t be helped, but sometimes they’re preventable and due to someone else’s negligence. At Morgan & Morgan, we understand the emotional toll that disasters like wildfires can take on individuals and families. If you need to speak with a lawyer,reach out to us today, at no cost to you.