Wildfires that rapidly spread across the Hawaiian island of Maui claimed the lives of at least six people on Wednesday, devastating the historic town of Lahaina and forcing some people to jump into the ocean to escape the flames.
“Dangerous fire weather conditions” were created by Hurricane Dora’s strong winds as the Category 4 storm traveled south of Hawaii, coupled with dry vegetation and low humidity levels, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke told CNN that the disaster has knocked out cellphone and 911 service across the island and quickly led to overcrowding in local hospitals.
“Our hospital system on Maui, they are overburdened with burn patients, people suffering from inhalation,” the Democrat said. “The reality is that we need to fly people out of Maui to give them burn support because Maui hospital cannot do extensive burn treatment.”
About 14,000 homes and businesses lost power due to the fires.
The Coast Guard told CNN that a dozen people were rescued off the coast of Lahaina after “entering the ocean due to smoke and fire conditions,” and were transported to safety.
“Lahaina has been devastated,” a resident named Clint Hansen toldCNN. “People jumping in the ocean to escape the flames, being rescued by the Coast Guard. All boat owners are being asked to rescue people. It’s apocalyptic.”
The Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization toldThe Washington Post that wildfires have become more common in Hawaii in the last century as humans have introduced nonnative grasses and shrubs that have then become “more flammable as climate change brings warmer, drier conditions.”
“The fire can be a mile or more from your house, but in a minute or two, it can be at your house,” Jeff Giesea, assistant fire chief of Maui County, said.
The disaster comes as the southwestern U.S. is continuing to face extreme heat and parts of Texas are at risk of fires. Scientists have found that the recent record-breaking temperatures and the heat dome that settled over the Southwest would have been “virtually impossible” without the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis.
“This is happening too often,” said environmental legal advocacy group Earthjustice.
We are devastated for the people of Maui impacted by these fires & urge them to put safety first.
This is happening too often. We are angry at the fossil fuel companies and greed that enabled these climate disasters, and we are determined to keep fighting for our future. https://t.co/95pOZECJua
— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice) August 9, 2023
“Colonial greed is burning down our home,” said Ing. “And it’s U.S. politicians and polluters to blame.”
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