“It’s like a disaster”: 4 questions to understand why Hawaii fires are so destructive and dangerous

“It’s like a disaster”: 4 questions to understand why Hawaii fires are so destructive and dangerous

“We had the worst disaster I have ever seen. All of Lahaina burns to ashes. It’s like a disaster,” Mason Jarvey, a Lahaina resident who survived the fire, told the British newspaper. Guardian.

Analysts say the fires in Hawaii are the result of a series of factors that have created a dangerous combination of strong winds, low humidity and drought.

And the bad news is that these conditions will worsen in the coming years. According to scientists, due to the effects of climate change.

Climate change, explains Kelsey Cobbs-Kerbitz, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia’s School of Forestry in Canada, “leads to these unexpected or unexpected combinations, and they trigger these extreme weather events,” she told the AP. “What these disasters reveal is No place is free from problems”.

Aerial view of Lahaina Beach in West Maui, Hawaii on August 10, 2023.

debt: Patrick D. via Getty Images Fallon/AFP

Why are forest fires in Hawaii?

Large differences in atmospheric pressure caused unusually strong trade winds, which, in turn, fueled the flames, meteorologists explain.

Trade winds are a natural feature of Hawaiian weather.

They are produced when air moves from a high pressure system north of the archipelago known as the North Pacific High. To the region of low pressure at the equator, south of the region.

But Typhoon Dora, which passed south of the islands this week, intensified the low-pressure system and created “unusually strong trade winds,” increasing the difference in air pressure, said Genki Kino, a meteorologist at the weather service’s office. National in Honolulu.

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Even during typical summer weather, strong winds in Hawaii typically reach 40 miles per hour. But the winds that battered the islands and fanned the flames this week were fierce.Wind gusts reached 82 mph on the Big Island and Oahu, and 67 mph on Maui, according to weather service data.

The fire was first spread by dry vegetation and sparks from the wind. A fire broke out on Lahaina Beach With dangerous speed and ferocity, the downtown area’s devastating wooden buildings date back to the 18th century and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

An aerial view of a house destroyed by fire in Lahaina, West Maui, Hawaii.

debt: Patrick D. via Getty Images Fallon/AFP

2. Why did the fire take Hawaii by surprise?

Hawai’i State Climatologist Pao-Shin Sue said Dora had an impact – Approximately 800 kilometers (500 miles) away– took him by surprise.

“Hurricane Dora was a long way from Hawaii, but this fire was here. So it’s something we didn’t expect,” he said.

The combination of strong winds, low humidity and an abundance of easily flammable dry vegetation increased the risk of wildfires even on a tropical island like Maui.

“When you have those conditions at the same time, the National Weather Service often calls them ‘red flag conditions,'” said Erika Fleishman, director of Oregon State University’s Institute for Climate Change Research.

Elizabeth Pickett, co-executive director of the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, stressed that while this week’s fires caught many off guard, given all those conditions, they shouldn’t be surprised.

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Despite its association with rainforests and waterfalls, Hawaii is a place where fires grow. “We’re not all fixed, but that’s predictable,” Pickett said The Washington Post.

A picture taken by the United States National Guard showing the progress of the fires in Hawaii.

debt: Master SGT Andrew Jackson / US A/EFE

3. How does climate change affect fires in Hawaii?

“Climate change is increasing the desiccation of vegetation in many parts of the world, mostly due to higher temperatures,” explained Fleischmann. “Even if you have the same amount of precipitation, if you have higher temperatures, things dry out faster.”

Clay Traurnicht, a fire scientist at the University of Hawaii, said the rainy season can encourage invasive non-native plants like guinea grass found in parts of Maui to grow as fast as 6 inches (15 centimeters) a day. Up to 10 feet (3 meters) tall. When it dries, it creates a tinderbox ready to start a forest fire.

“These grasslands accumulate fuel very quickly.” Traunicht said. “In warmer, drier conditions, with variable precipitation, this exacerbates the problem.”

A Hispanic plays in Hawaii due to an apocalyptic fire: he loses his home and his business

4. How do hurricanes affect fires?

Climate change not only increases fire risk by increasing temperatures, but also increases the probability of strong hurricanes. In turn, those storms can produce strong wind events like the one behind the Maui fire.

This is in addition to other threats that are worsening with climate change.

“There is an increasing trend in hurricane intensity around the world because warmer air contains more water.” Fleishman described.

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“On top of that, sea levels are rising around the world, so you tend to get severe flooding from storm surge when a hurricane makes landfall.”

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Arzu Daniel

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