In the last 20 years, 21.8 million Americans have found themselves living within three miles of a large wildfire as they pose an increasing risk in many areas of the US once considered safe. Professor Mojtaba Sadegh looks at the reasons behind this and what communities can do to lower the risk.
Wildfires, pushed by powerful winds, raced through Lahaina, Hawai’i, on August 8th and 9th 2023, leaving a charred and smoldering landscape across the tourist town of about 13,000 residents that was once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawai’i. At least 99 people died, Hawaii officials said. Others were rescued by the US Coast Guard after going into the ocean to escape the flames.
Dry grasses and strong winds, influenced by Hurricane Dora passing far to the south, heightened the risk as wildfires burned both in Maui’s tourist-filled west coast and farther inland and on the Big Island of Hawai’i.
Most fires in the US are suppressed before they have a chance to threaten communities, but the winds were too strong to send helicopters into the sky to help contain Maui’s fires on the first day, leaving firefighters to battle the blazes from the ground.
Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke issued an emergency declaration, activating the National Guard to help, and urged travelers to stay away.