Tragedy strikes as wildfires engulf Hawaii, claiming six lives and leaving over two dozen individuals injured. These ferocious wildfires, fueled by “hurricane-force” winds and a scorching drought, have led to scenes that some describe as “apocalyptic.”
Fast-moving wildfires, driven by powerful winds, have forced residents to seek refuge in the ocean, with evacuations underway on Maui, the second-largest island. The flames have also spread to Hawaii’s Big Island, causing widespread panic and destruction.
Governor Josh Green of Hawaii termed this disaster “terrible,” as flames ravaged everything in their path, including the historic tourist town of Lāhainā on Maui, displacing hundreds of families. A resident of Lāhainā reported that “every boat was burning” in the harbor, and the harbor itself was consumed by the fire.
Desperate Maui residents took to the ocean to escape the inferno, prompting a rescue operation by the US Coast Guard. Australian tourists found themselves in the midst of towering flames, turning popular holiday destinations into fiery nightmares.
Governor Green, who cut his holiday short, emphasized, “We have suffered a terrible disaster in the form of a wildfire that has spread widely as a result of hurricane-force winds in the region and underlying drought conditions. Maui and the Big Island both experienced significant fires. Much of Lāhainā on Maui has been destroyed, and hundreds of local families have been displaced.”
Hurricane Dora, passing at a safe distance of 805 kilometers to the south, played a role in generating winds exceeding 97 kph, which knocked out power, rattled homes, and grounded firefighting helicopters, according to the National Weather Service.
Aerial footage taken after sunrise revealed entire blocks of buildings reduced to ash and thick smoke filling the air. Firefighting crews in Maui faced multiple blazes concentrated in two areas: the tourist hotspot of West Maui and an inland, mountainous region.
Panicked residents shared videos and photos on social media, depicting apocalyptic scenes of smoke engulfing once pristine beaches and palm trees.
Scientists underscore the role of human-caused climate change, primarily driven by fossil fuel use, in increasing the frequency and intensity of such extreme weather events. They have long called for drastic reductions in emissions to avert climate catastrophe.
The National Interagency Fire Centre had forecasted a higher fire risk for Hawaii in August, which is expected to persist over the next three months until November.
Dustin Johnson, a resident of San Diego who was in Lahaina on Maui during the wildfires, recounted his experience, “I was the last one off the dock when the firestorm came through the banyan trees and took everything with it, and I just ran out and helped everyone I could along the way.”
Although large fires are a near-annual occurrence in certain parts of the Hawaiian archipelago, the extent of these fires is currently unprecedented. By Tuesday night, hundreds of acres had already been consumed, leading to road closures and school shutdowns in Hawaii and Maui Counties, as declared by acting Hawaii Governor Sylvia Luke.
The wildfires have also ravaged parts of Kula, a residential area in the inland, mountainous Upcountry region, and have affected Kihei, a South Maui area comprising residential homes, condominiums, short-term vacation rentals, and visitor facilities, as reported by Maui County spokesperson Mahina Martin.