Maui wildfires caused by nonnative grasses grown on abandoned farmland

 August 12, 2023

Wildfires in the Maui region of Hawaii are being fueled by the growth of nonnative grasses on farmland that used to grow pineapple and other crops, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Much of the town of Lahaina on the island of Maui was destroyed on Wednesday when hurricane winds from Dora offshore caused an already-ignited blaze to spread much faster than usual.

Eighty people have been confirmed dead in the wildfires, and 1000 more are reported to be missing in the area of the fires, so the death toll is expected to rise.

"Since the 1990s, the number of fires has been increasing alongside growth of invasive grasses, such as guinea grass, and shrubs on what were once sprawling plantations," the Chronicle reported. "The University of Hawaii’s Ecosystem Extension Program cites a more than threefold increase in burned acreage in recent decades, compared with the last century’s average."

Experts weigh in

“You pull agriculture off the land (and) it fills in with burnable fuels, and no one is doing anything about that,” [wildfire expert Clay] Trauernicht said.

It's a similar situation to California, where environmentalists thought they were helping matters by preventing forests from being cleared of underbrush and debris, but ironically, they actually made it worse because the debris makes wildfires spread faster.

Of course, they blame it all on global warming, but most people with intimate knowledge of wildfires and even many in the public are aware of the real cause.

What started the fires on Maui is not yet known, but will be investigated once conditions allow it.

The damage so far

A total of 2,170 acres were burned by the fires, including 2,200 and some tourist areas.

As of Saturday, the Lahaina fire was reported to be 85% contained.

Pacific Disaster Center and Federal Emergency Management Agency has estimated the cost of rebuilding at $5.52 billion, a staggering amount.

Failures of emergency notifications

Emergency sirens did not appear to have sounded when the fires encroached, and Hawaii Governor Josh Green said a "full review" would be done to figure out what happened.

He also said that telecommunications were down and firefighters were already dealing with other fires when the threat to Lahaina was greatest on Wednesday.

Teams have not gone into any of the burned buildings yet, and it's unclear how many more dead might be found inside them as fire descended on them with no warning due to these failures.

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