Wildfires are not uncommon in Hawaii, but those that have recently occurred have been dubbed some of the worst in the history of the archipelago.

Though the cause of the fatal fires is still being looked into, their impact has been catastrophic.

But the winds from the hurricane and the dry conditions contributed to the fires.

Another factor was the widespread drought or unusually dry conditions in Hawaii, particularly on the whole island of Maui.

Typically, wildfires require three components: biomass fuel, such as vegetation or trees, a spark, and weather, such as breezes that fan the flames.

The US Drought Monitor estimates that 14% of the state is experiencing severe or moderate drought, while 80% of Hawaii is considered to be abnormally dry.

Dry weather robs vegetation of moisture, making it more flammable and prone to spreading fires.

90% of Hawaii is receiving less rainfall than it did a century ago, according to scientists, with the time after 2008 being particularly dry.

Prior to the fires starting, Maui was also under red flag alert, which meant that an elevated chance of fire danger was anticipated due to rising temperatures, extremely low humidity levels, and stronger winds.

Hurricane Dora’s powerful gusts, which passed by the coast of Hawaii on Tuesday, contributed to further fanning the flames.

Due to this year’s record-breaking high sea surface temperatures, which are energising the atmosphere, forecasters anticipate a stronger-than-usual Atlantic hurricane season.

The National Weather Service recorded brush fires in Maui last month and momentarily shut down a highway. “The risk of fires during this year’s dry season is elevated,” forecasters warned at the time.

Scientists have also noted that non-native grasses that are more combustible than native plants are present in several areas of the Hawaiian islands.

This, along with dry circumstances, can lead to a spark lighting off a fire that can swiftly spread.

Hawaii Governor Josh Green described the flames as the “largest natural disaster” in the history of the state during a news conference on Thursday.

“We have never experienced a wildfire that affected a city like this before,” Mr. Green said, adding that the difficulties posed by climate change were putting an unprecedented burden on Hawaii.

In many different regions of the world, we are witnessing this for the first time, he remarked.

How heatwaves and wildfires are impacted by climate change

The last significant fire in Hawaii occurred in 2018, when Hurricane Lane’s winds fanned the flames near Lahaina, the same town this week’s fires have decimated.

According to local media, the fire five years ago burned 21 structures, the majority of which were residences, 31 vehicles, and 2,000 acres of land.

In the past, wildfires in Hawaii were not common; they were typically started by volcanic eruptions or lightning strikes. However, due to human activities, they have become more prevalent and extreme in recent years.

Globally, the risk of wildfire is rising as a result of climate change, which raises temperatures and lengthens and intensifies heatwaves.

Heater temperatures and drier vegetation make it easier for fires to spread once they start.

The UN anticipates that due to climate change and modifications in human land use, severe wildfires will become more frequent and spread to previously untouched areas.


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