Last week, three wildfires swept through the island of Maui in Hawaii. The fires have killed at least 96 people and destroyed over 3 square miles (8.5 square kilometers) of land. Some of the fires are still burning, but the danger seems to have passed.
The wildfires began as small fires on Tuesday, August 8. Soon, extremely strong winds from Hurricane Dora caused the fires to grow out of control. At times, the winds blew at speeds greater than 70 mph (113 kph). As a result, the wildfires spread much too quickly for fire fighters to contain them.
The government encouraged people to evacuate some areas, but often people didn’t find out about the fires in time. The strong winds took out the electricity in some areas, making communication difficult.
The island of Maui has about 80 sirens that are used to warn people about dangers like this. But the sirens never went off. Many people only found out about the fires when they saw them. The wildfires moved so quickly that some people were forced to jump into the ocean to escape.
The historic area of Lahaina on the west side of Maui was hit worst. Lahaina is a popular tourist area, and is home to about 13,000 people. The wildfire destroyed over 2,700 buildings around Lahaina, most of them homes. The government has provided around 500 hotel rooms for people who were affected, but some people are still homeless. Because of chemicals spread by the fires, the water is dangerous to drink in places.
The Lahaina wildfire is the deadliest wildfire in the US since 1918. So far 96 people are reported to have been killed in the fire, but that number is expected to go up. Many people are still missing.
There are several reasons the wildfires were so serious. To start with, Hawaii is extremely dry. That’s partly because it’s summer – Hawaii’s dry season – now. But Hawaii is even drier than usual because of the climate crisis.
In many parts of the world, wildfires spread through forests of trees. But the wildfires in Hawaii burned through grasslands. About 25% of Hawaii is covered with grasses that originally came from Africa. These invasive grasses grow quickly and push out plants that grow naturally in Hawaii. The grasses created huge amounts of dry fuel to feed the fires.
The strong winds made it hard to use helicopters to fight the fires. On the ground, fire fighters often didn’t have enough water to fight the fires because the heat had melted pipes, causing water leaks.
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The wildfires are still burning in some areas, but they’re mostly contained now. Still, they have caused a massive amount of damage. The government believes it will cost nearly $6 billion to rebuild the area.
Many people are upset with the government. They feel like the warnings came too late, and there hasn’t been enough help after the fire. Many local people are working together to solve problems themselves.
The government has promised to investigate the fire and the way it was handled.
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