The Hawaii fire

Just stunning and terrible, the speed and ferocity of that fire. My heart goes out to all those who have spent time or live in the area as they process and grieve. (If anyone would like to share more practical ways to assist, please do.)

One of the things I best love about iNaturalist is how it allows us to get a sense of other places through the lens of nature. Here are observations from Lahaina, Hawaii, before the fire.

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My wife and I were in Maui in June, probably my fifth trip there over the years. (Yes, I iNatted quite a bit while there.) We have extended family there although none live in Lahaina but some have been and will be impacted by this terrible event. In June we drove through Lahaina on our way from an amazing snorkeling spot nearby but it was so crowded with tourists we couldn’t find a parking spot so didn’t stop. We thought, next trip. :-(

We will be donating to Red Cross most likely.

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@jnstuart I chose Lahaina because it has been much in the news and having never been to Hawaii, I am not familiar with the geography of Maui to know where is and is not impacted, but if you have observations you would like to share from elsewhere on the island, I would love to see them. (Among my favorites from the Lahaina observations: the handsome Kamehameha Butterfly and the beautiful Koki‘o Ke‘oke‘o plant.)

I am glad your family members are physically safe even as I am sorry they have gone and are going through this with their community.

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Has much nature been affected there? From international news coverage, it looked as if very little area was actually impacted (I heard <1% of the island), predominantly in a seaside resort for tourists full of wooden buildings and cars, hence the devastation and human/economic toll…

I was under the impression that it is a huge area. And only about 50 firefighters based in that fire affected area. Correction - 65.
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/aug/12/hawaii-fire-lahaina-maui

Records show that the sirens that were intended to warn the residents of the incoming inferno never sounded, according to Hawaii emergency management agency spokesperson Adam Weintraub. Emergency alerts sent to mobile phones, televisions, and radio stations may not have been received due to widespread power outages.

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You can use this tool to see wildfires across the world. (My slow internet is not getting there …)
NASA wildfires

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There are fires on the Big Island as well, but none of them seem to be causing the kind of damage that Maui is suffering.

What you’re not taking into account is that it’s not over. There are currently eight wildfires burning (as of late this evening on the Washington Post’s map)—four on the Big Island, and four on Maui itself. The fire complex between Kihei and Pukalani is mostly in hilly upcountry area, which is going to be very difficult to fight. Because of the terrain, Haleakala National Park is probably safe; the fires would have to crest a ridge that tops out at over 10,000 ft / 3048m. That being said, after watching the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome Fires here in Colorado in 2020, I’m not willing to believe any guarantees.

Also, the destruction of Lahaina isn’t just about “a seaside resort for tourists”. The colonial history (in other words, haole history) of the area goes back to the 1700s. Lahaina Town—the whole town—is (or was) on the National Register of Historic Places. It was the old capitol of the Kingdom of Hawai’i, and there were was a wealth of pre-colonial history, culture, and sacred space there. These two articles will help to shed some perspective on the matter.

If I seem a bit brusque, kala mai iaʻu. I’m sorry. This is personal for me. A member of my chosen family is in the hospital, and I sat with him yesterday as tears rolled down his face, watching places that he knows and loves go up in flames. He’s not Hawai’ian by birth, but his whole family is what’s known as kamaʻāina: long-term residents, and particularly those who learn and live the culture and traditions of the Islands.

Anyway. This is the article that I had initially meant to post; some detail on how bad the impact of the fires is going to be to native species on the islands. They’re not fire-adapted. (Neither is the 150-year-old Banyan Tree that was the heart of Lahaina Town; there’s hope that it will grow back, but that depends on how badly the roots were damaged.)

Again, apologies. I’m sad and angry, and I feel helpless, and I don’t want to take that out on anyone. As a historian, naturalist, student of different cultures, and human, my heart is grieving. I’ve never been to Hawai’i, but I have both kamaʻāina and Native Hawai’ian—kanaka—among friends and family, so I guess I’ve absorbed a fair amount of it over the years. Aloha ʻāina; love of the land. It doesn’t require you to have touched the land, only that it has touched you in some way.

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Thanks for the insights and for sharing your voice!
As seen from far away, the news coverage is puzzling and rather terse - it largely consists of body count and acres burned, plus (if lucky) some drama about “tourists having to cancel their stay and sleep at the airport” and “the tourism economy and its workers will have a hard time”.

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Yeah, the historical and cultural aspects of the damage are really getting short shrift. I’ve been depressing myself by looking through photos. I’ve seen less damage in a war zone.

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@GothHobbit I am so sorry for your chosen family member, may he soon recover his health, so too the land beloved by you both. Thank you for sharing articles that are helpful in guiding my understanding of the magnitude of this devastation on many levels.

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A separate fire on Maui – not the one that decimated Lahaina – burned right up next to the Maui Bird Conservation Center at Makawao where some of the last Hawaiian Crows and 'akikiki are housed. Thankfully staff and neighbors kept it from impacting the center.

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From a Washington Post article about the causes of the Maui fires:

“Scientists have identified the spread of highly flammable invasive plant species as a growing threat and fuel for wildfires in the region. Tropical forests host a variety of nonnative species that can disturb and disrupt the natural ecosystem, such as guinea grass. The plants invade the common territory of other native plants and diminish their ability to grow normally, according to research from the University of Hawaii at Manoa (https://cms.ctahr.hawaii.edu/littonc/Research/Invasive-Grasses-Wildfire-Restoration). The plants often spread across large stretches of land, uncontained and unmonitored.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2023/08/10/maui-wildfires-cause/

Drought plus invasive vegetation, high winds, and infrastructure such as aboveground power lines (a possible spark for the fires) is a recipe for disaster, as California has also seen.

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Via various news articles, I found Maui Nui Strong, which has a Wildfire Relief page dedicated to the many different local organizations, including the food bank, the humane society, mutual aid and many others.

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That, also depends on your chosen news source.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/8/11/what-is-the-environmental-impact-of-the-fires-on-hawaiis-maui-island

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/8/10/its-gone-forever-wildfires-ravage-town-at-heart-of-hawaiian-culture

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I have family in Maui who have lost their homes completely, and everything inside. Everybody is safe but it feels like such a nightmare. I have family in Canada who just went through the same. The world just feels so sad sometimes.

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I’m sorry to hear this. I don’t know yet how my extended family are coping. My wife’s father is a native of Maui and there are many family members on the island, more than I can count. (We just attended a family reunion there in June.) The economic effects on them, even if they didn’t lose homes, is going to be huge. One has to realize that it’s a small island, very expensive to live there (most residents are not wealthy, they are middle class like most of us), with limited housing. Many residents live in large households (two or more generations) because of housing costs and work multiple jobs just to get by. And tourism, which has now been badly impacted, is a huge driver of the local economy.

As a naturalist and biologist, I think about the ecological impacts on the Hawaiian Islands and am always troubled by what I see when I visit there even as I am fascinated by the mix of native and non-native species I encounter. The wildfires are just one more blow to the native ecosystem that was already struggling. But the economic impact to the people there is also on my mind and I wonder how the island will get through this and what it will look like when I visit in the future, whenever that might be. It’s all very sad.

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A bit of somewhat more upbeat news, from Kauai rather than Maui (but I’ll take what I can get).

Honeycreepers are being given a lifeline with Dunk

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I always feel a massive loss whenever a place with such history and cultural relevance is destroyed in a natural disaster - both empathy for the people who are going to struggle for the aftermath, and for the irreplaceable things, both man made and natural, that are lost.

I hope that Maui can rebuild without asshole rich people coming in and snatching up properties in the aftermath, and I hope tourists sit back and not let their opinions overpower the grief of the residents. I’ve never been to Lahaina, and probably never will, but I still grieve - I can’t even imagine the sorrow of those people impacted.

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One three-minute video on YouTube was all I could stand. I cried and cried and cried – and I don’t even know anyone in Lahaina. I’m on the verge of crying agin, replying to this. I lived in Hawaii long ago.

It is clear by now that there is no running or hiding from the climate crisis. I have seen so many stories over the years about wildfires in places that aren’t supposed to have wildfires. I also cried when the Olympic Rainforest burned – that was in 2015. After that came the Arctic wildfires in Alaska.

Having just lived in California for the last 5 years, I got used to “bad air days,” as I call them. Like many Californians, I had an N95 mask before anyone heard of covid. When I came back to North Carolina at the end of last year, I thought I had left bad air days behind – we didn’t have them when I was grad student here in 2008–10. Nope. Twice now since I came back, the haze has been both visible and painful to breathe. If anyone thinks that they can go someplace to avoid climate-related disasters – there’s no such place.

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I grew up on O’ahu and have no close family or friends on Maui, but even so the news has been horribly sad.

Here’s a gift link to a NY Times article about invasive grasses and the fire.

Varieties like guinea grass, molasses grass and buffel grass — which originated in Africa and were introduced to Hawaii as livestock forage — now occupy nearly a quarter of Hawaii’s landmass.

When I was last in Hawaii I saw buffelgrass covering a protected Laysan Albatross nesting area on O’ahu. There were double fences there to keep out mammals, but a fire could be devastating.

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