Hawaii Wildfires Force People Into the Ocean

The scene is described as 'apocalyptic' on the island of Maui
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 9, 2023 9:20 AM CDT
Hawaii Wildfires Force People Into the Ocean
Members of a Hawaii firefighting crew battle a fire on the island of Maui Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023.   (Matthew Thayer/The Maui News via AP)

Add Hawaii to the locales battling raging wildfires in the summer of 2023. But in this case, Hawaii's unique geography has led to an unreal consequence: Some people have had to literally jump into the ocean to escape the flames. Coverage:

  • On Maui: The Coast Guard tweeted that it rescued a dozen people from the waters off the popular tourist town of Lahaina on the island of Maui. Witness Clint Hansen confirms the scene to CNN: "Lahaina has been devastated," he says. "People jumping in the ocean to escape the flames, being rescued by the Coast Guard. All boat owners are being asked to rescue people. It's apocalyptic."
  • The scene: This video provides a glimpse of the scene in Lahaina. Hawaii News Now reports that much of the town is believed to have been destroyed by an out-of-control brush fire that quickly overwhelmed firefighters. "Everyone I know in Lahaina, their homes have burned down," says resident Tiare Lawrence. 911 service is down and Maui hospitals have been overwhelmed with burn patients and people suffering from smoke inhalation, says Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke.

  • Big Island: Wildfires also are burning on the island of Hawaii, known as the Big Island, notes the Washington Post. The governor has declared a state of emergency to help with disaster relief and evacuations, citing "hundreds of acres" burned so far.
  • Conditions: Strong winds from Hurricane Dora, which is about 500 miles away, have delivered a double whammy, notes the AP. They're not only fanning the flames, but they're preventing helicopters from dropping water on the fires. "The fire can be a mile or more from your house, but in a minute or two, it can be at your house," says Fire Assistant Chief Jeff Giesea.
  • Context: The AP also provides some big-picture context, noting that Hawaii's fires usually start on the islands' grasslands in dry conditions, as with this summer. They tend to be smaller than mainland fires, but there's a complicating factor: "Fires were rare in Hawaii and on other tropical islands before humans arrived, and native ecosystems evolved without them," writes Jennifer Sinco Kelleher. Thus, when they do spread, the fires can wreak severe environmental damage.
(More Hawaii stories.)

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