As drought conditions worsen across Hawaii due to climate change, unprecedented wildfires have erupted on Maui, killing at least 36 people and decimating the historic town of Lahaina. The fires, the worst in the state’s history, have forced thousands to evacuate and destroyed homes and businesses. President Biden approved disaster assistance to help those affected in their recovery.
Several factors have aggravated the wildfires. Climate change is not only creating hotter and drier conditions through rising temperatures, it is also changing vegetation. When non-native grasses were introduced, they quickly covered much of the state and now rapidly dry out during droughts, fueling the fast-spreading fires. Meanwhile, invasive grasses already cover 26% of Hawaii.
The Impact of Drought
The ongoing drought, which has intensified over the past week according to CNN, has dried out vegetation and made it readily available to burn. Drought conditions are becoming more extreme in Hawaii and across the Pacific due to climate change. Meanwhile, total annual rainfall has been declining in Hawaii. The drought has seriously hampered firefighting efforts.
Challenges of Fighting Tropical Fires
Fighting these unprecedented fires has posed major challenges for firefighters. Limited local resources comprising under 300 personnel made battling the massive blazes difficult. Recent hurricane-force winds from Hurricane Dora also spread the flames rapidly. Changing vegetation to more fire-prone non-native grasses has increased fuel loads. With tropical forests and vegetation not historically facing fire risk, Hawaii lacks capabilities to handle large-scale wildfires.
A Call for Support
In the aftermath, recovery and relief efforts are underway led by organizations like the American Red Cross and Maui Humane Society. Locals and the wider community can support those impacted through donations to help provide shelter, supplies and other critical assistance in rebuilding lives and communities devastated by the still-raging climate change-fueled wildfires.