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The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

Hawaii Wildfires Devastate Island

Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii following August 2023 wildfires | Photo from Paula Ramon | Getty Images

On the night of Aug. 8, wildfires erupted in the town of Lahaina on the island of Maui, which had first been established in the early 1800s. 

Footage from neighbors’ properties and the ensuing investigation determined that the wildfires were a result of strong winds from a Category 4 hurricane off the shore. In the midst of the storm, the harsh weather conditions caused trees to fall on power lines. Video recordings shared to ABC News show the camera blacking out and coming back online due to the storm. 

The initial spark caused by the electrical disruption quickly led to the forest catching on fire. Due to the dried underbrush and drought plaguing Hawaii at the time, the spark had plenty of ignition to spread across and engulfed vast swathes of land. Even in the middle of a rainstorm, the wind aided in carrying the fire and smoke farther across the island. 

Hawaiian Electric, the company responsible for the power lines, immediately drew criticism; the corporation was blamed for not taking the proper measures to prevent the electrical fires that had been anticipated once storm warnings were declared. Maui County filed a lawsuit against the company on Aug. 28, citing negligence.  

Furthermore, the 80 sirens placed around the town were not sounded, as they were used chiefly for tsunami warnings. Many people in the area shared that they never received a warning about the fires on their phones.  

The emergency chief of Maui, Herman Andaya, felt residents would have run towards higher elevation, which was where the flames were brewing. Andaya claimed that he did not regret his decision not to sound the alarms. Within a week, he had resigned from his position. 

As of Sept. 20, there are 97 confirmed deaths, of which 74 were identified. The remaining bodies remain unidentified. One month after the incident, 31 people are still considered missing. The Maui fire is the deadliest American wildfire in a century and is the sixth deadliest American wildfire since records began in the late 1870s.  

“This is the largest natural disaster we’ve ever experienced,” said Hawaii governor Josh Green at a news conference. “It’s going to also be a natural disaster that’s going to take an incredible amount of time to recover from.” 

Fundraising efforts from celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Dwayne Johnson have been posted on social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok. The Biden Administration has offered $7.3 million in assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Money has begun to pour in as officials and families return after evacuation, looking for family members, friends, and the devastation around where they once lived. 

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Arwa Ouali, Senior Staff Writer
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