As I write this, the death toll from the wildfires in Hawaii has climbed to 115. A large portion of the fatalities are elderly. At last check, there were still hundreds of people in shelters on Maui. Much of the town of Lahaina on the island of Maui was destroyed. Video of the smoldering remains. More pictures and video.
Initially, the blazes in Olinda and Kula were identified together as the Upcountry fire however county fire investigators concluded the two have distinct origins.
The average golf course is 170 acres, so the Lahaina Fire burnt the equivalent of 13 golf courses in area.
There are still over 1,000 people unaccounted for. Some are just known by a first name. Some may be seasonal residents who were not in Lahaina at the time of the fire.
Authorities are still concerned about toxic fumes and people getting injured while searching through debris. Only bottled water is being used in the fire area. An effort has been made to see that everyone gets their medication. Therapy dogs are in the fire area. 900 landlords (inc. hotels and Airbnbs have offered to rent to refugees.
Officials are concerned about the drop in tourism. Maui is the most tourist-dependent Hawaiian island. Hotel occupancy on the island outside of the fire areas is at 57%. Tourism on all the Hawaiian Islands is down 20% from the same period one year ago.
Prior to the Lahaina Wildfire, the most devastating natural disaster in Hawaiian history was a 1960 tsunami that struck Hilo Bay killing 61 people. The wave occurred after a 9.5 earthquake in Chile.” This is also the deadliest fire in the U.S. in over 10 years.
Mayor Bissen of Lahaina said in a news conference that “everything from Puamana to Chart House, from the coast to above the highway is gone”.
Here’s one explanation for the stronger winds that occurred in the Hawaiian islands: A small, but intense hurricane passed well south of Hawaii. Despite the relatively long distance, the storm was able to tighten the pressure gradient and produce some strong winds over the Hawaiian Islands.
Hurricane Dora formed well off the west coast of Mexico and traveled due west.
Look at the satellite picture above. You can see Dora is far south-southwest of the Hawaiian Islands. The closest the storm came to the islands was about 600 miles. That’s about as far away as northern Alabama is from Grand Rapids. So…how could a storm that far away cause significant damage?
The general pressure gradient across Hawaii produces a wind from the east-northeast. The wind blows from the same direction most days of the year. When there is a stronger difference in pressure from north to south, the winds will increase and when that difference is minimized, the winds are generally lighter.
Dora, with its lower pressure tightened that gradient and the winds increased. Here’s some peak gusts in Hawaii Tuesday, August 8th: Honolulu 45 mph (with an average wind midnight-to-midnight of 26 mph), Kohala Ranch (Big Island) 82 mph (strongest gust I saw), Kawaiha 66 mph, Maalaea Bay 62 mph, Nuu 58 mph, Kaena Point 57 mph, Waikola Village 56 mph, South Point 53 mph.
At 2 am EDT Wednesday, Maalaea Bay reported a steady wind of 35 mph with a peak gust of 47 mph. PTA Keamuku had a northeast wind of 31 mph with a peak gust of 58 mph. Port Allen (on Kauai) had a steady wind of 30 mph with a peak gust of 47 mph.
The strong winds downed numerous trees and power lines. Downed power lines started wildfires that destroyed “multiple structures”, including dozens of homes. Power was knocked out to over 15,000 customers, mostly on the island of Maui. The strong winds prevented an immediate air response to the wildfires. You couldn’t put helicopters and other aircraft into the air until the winds abated a bit. There were evacuations due to the advancing fires. Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke implemented an emergency proclamation to activate the Hawaii Army National Guard.
The governor said on Wed. 8/16 that upwards of 1,000 people are still not accounted for. Hilton Raethel, CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said Maui Medical Center is “very full” because of numerous burn victims.
Cell phone service was down for much of west Maui, with the potential to remain inoperable for weeks. Pioneer Inn, a historical building, no longer exists.
Video of wildfire coming into downtown Lahaina in West Maui, home to 12,000 people. Some people fled to the ocean as the wildfire rapidly approached.
Numerous roads were temporarily blocked by downed trees and wires. Several roofs were destroyed or heavily damaged. Haleakalā National Park announced it was closed until conditions improved due to blocked road access due to the fires and winds. The Honolulu Fire Dept. said: , “As of 12:33 p.m. Tuesday, there have been ten downed trees, five downed powerlines and two blown off roofs.”
The sirens in Lahaina (the largest siren system in the world) were never activated. Hawaii doesn’t get tornadoes, but they do get very rare tsunamis and that’s primarily what the siren system was designed to give warning. I don’t know the geographic structure of the siren system (are they just near the ocean?) and I don’t know if they can be sounded just certain areas. While you want people to flee a wildfire, you don’t want people not affected by the wildfire to race into the fire’s path.
From the Washington Post: “Four days before fast-moving brush fires engulfed parts of Maui, weather forecasters warned authorities that powerful wind gusts would trigger dangerous fire conditions across much of the island…”
Golf star Collin Morikawa pledged $1,000 towards Maui relief for each birdie he made during the FedEx Cup playoffs. The FedEx St. Jude Championship teed off in Memphis on Thursday, August 10th, with Morikawa making six birdies, finishing the day with a 5-under 65. Although he hails from California, Morikawa has relatives in Hawaii. “Maui has always held a special place in my heart — my grandfather owned a restaurant called The Morikawa Restaurant, on Front Stkesreet in Lahaina,” the 26-year-old Morikawa said in a post on his personal Instagram account. “The people of Hawaii are going to need all the support that we can give them.”
The high temperature in Honolulu was 89 degrees on Tuesday, which was exactly average for the date. (pics. from KHON in Honolulu)
As of 1 pm Friday, August 11, there were still 11,047 customers without power on Maui and that number was essentially unchanged over the previous 24 hours.
There was a significant power outage on the island of Kauai Monday PM. Here’s an explanation from Hawaii Power: “FINAL UPDATE: The cause of this outage was determined to be a broken guy wire attached to a utility pole in the German Hill area. This caused a trip at the Kapaia Power Station. We appreciate members’ patience while power was being restored.”