Opinion: Maui fire shows that Hawaii paradise was a dream

Naka Nathaniel is an opinion columnist for Honolulu Civil Beat.

Naka Nathaniel

In Hawai’i this summer, we would glance at the news from the rest of the country and be grateful that we weren’t suffering under the extreme weather — heat domes, deluges or smoke-filled skies — that other parts of the world were experiencing. We remained sheltered in our corner of paradise.

But “paradise” was a marketing ploy, never the truth nor a guarantee.

Today, Hawai’i is reeling and in shock. The rising death toll — currently standing at 55 — from wildfires that are raging across Maui, is simply soul-crushing. 

This opinion piece on CNN by Naka Nathaniel is well worth reading.

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15 thoughts on “Opinion: Maui fire shows that Hawaii paradise was a dream”

  1. Martin,
    Have you tried to get surplus equipment lately? I know surplus trucks are very hard to come by. There is a huge waiting list in this state trying to get their hands on the millitary surplus trucks. Last I heard it was 40 departments in the queue.

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  2. What we will likely see from the post-mortem report on the fire will be similar to the report on the Camp Fire. Given the circumstances, it would be difficult to affect the outcome. There are so many infrastructure and behavioral changes that must take place to prevent tragedies like this from occuring again. I am not optimistic in that regard.

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  3. I think it is a little early to complain about the supposed lack of Fire Wise.

    Thoughts and prayers and support for all those effected.

    It’s a rough world out there.

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  4. It’s good to remember, for me, that I am on a wildfire-centric website when sharing thoughts on posted articles. Also, my youngest son works on a US hotshot crew, working in Alberta this last spring but now back in Arizona.

    “ Wildfire preparedness entails helping every and all small communities prepare and update current or emerging CWPP’s (Community Wildfire Protection Plans). CWPP’s need to match the funds available to fortify and prepare small communities for resilience.

    Regarding CWPP’s, who initiates? Is it residential or commercial property owners, local, regional, state or Federal government entities?

    My previous professional life includes emergency management. I remain flummoxed by local, regional, county, special districts, state, federal and other entities not taking advantage of opportunities to acquire “surplus” equipment, compliments of the US military apparatus, to equip their various localities.

    As I am hearing from media reports, the island didn’t have the necessary equipment including human bodies to forcefully provide an effective response to the disastrous fire on Maui.

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  5. MEA, does this rule “For example, a fire’s forward rate of spread would be approximately 8 km/h (5 mi/h) for winds of 40 km/h (25 mi/h)” hold regardless of temperature, slope and convection?”

    Any links to published studies or theoretical foundations?

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  6. @andystahl

    “Firewise could have helped. But I see no evidence that Hawaii has any Firewise-type program. Perhaps this tropical paradise had been seduced into thinking fire is not a menace.”

    You are not wrong in thinking that the US “Firewise” program could have helped reduce the loss of human life and damage to structures in this fire.

    It’s vitally important that this program available for preventative measures is more widely known.

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  7. Wildfires in cured grasslands under critical fire weather conditions are known to advance at 20% of the average open wind speed. For example, a fire’s forward rate of spread would be approximately 8 km/h (5 mi/h) for winds of 40 km/h (25 mi/h).

    For more information, see https://www.mdpi.com/2571-6255/5/2/55

    Marty Alexander
    Proprietor, Wild Rose Fire Behaviour, Leduc County, Alberta, Canada

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  8. Lots of dry, alien invasive weeds and eucalyptus burning like hell and throwing firebrands everywhere lie incendiary bombs. But the primary factor, as in all catastrophic wildfires=high winds.

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  9. Thanks, Kelly. Sorry I missed the fact that Hawaii has a Firewise website. Too bad it has so little in the way of Firewise on-the-ground practices, e.g., Firewise zoning, building, and vegetation management codes and ordinances. Those might have helped. Website alone, not so much.

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  10. ” . . . as climate change spurs more extreme weather events.”

    Firewise could have helped. But I see no evidence that Hawaii has any Firewise-type program. Perhaps this tropical paradise had been seduced into thinking fire is not a menace.

    The increase in Hawaii’s fire risk was a multi-step process that began with cutting down the native forest to plant pineapple & sugar cane. The native forest was generally fire resistant. Although these agricultural crops were not, per se, fire-prone, their abandonment in the last couple of decades has led to invasive grasses taking over. Google Earth imagery shows that Lahaina is surrounded on its inland side by these invasive grass fields.

    Of course, once the ignition lit, high winds made sure suppression was impossible. Typhoons are common-place in the Pacific Ocean — no anthropogenic climate signature to be found here.

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