By Olivia Colangelo
On August 8, 2023, the Maui wildfires began to forge a path of destruction and devastation within the state of Hawaii. With 114 casualties and 850 missing, the Maui wildfires have been deemed the deadliest wildfires in over a century.
Since August 8th, the wildfires have ravaged an estimated 3,200 acres of land, creating $5.5 billion in property damage. Nearly 3,000 homes and businesses have been destroyed, raising concerns for the future of the 11,000 displaced residents.
The fire most notably decimated the sacred town of Lahaina, the historic capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom in the 19th century. Prior to its destruction, Lahaina contained a multitude of spiritual relics and held cultural significance to indigenous Hawaiians.
Although the primary cause of the fire has yet to be identified, it is suspected that power lines and utility equipment may have kindled flames, which were exacerbated by strong winds. Officials attribute the fires’ rapid spread to Maui’s dry spell, which has created ideal conditions for brush fires to spark. In addition, Maui’s proliferation of nonnative grasses, which are especially dry, provided fuel for the flames to propagate.
As the Maui wildfires emit large quantities of greenhouse gasses and CO2 into the atmosphere, officials suspect that the toxins and debris will have environmental impacts on Hawaii’s waters, coral, and wildlife.
As for the future of Maui, President Joe Biden has taken a course of action in an attempt to mitigate disaster and restore the island in accordance with Polynesian culture and tradition. On August 10th, President Biden signed a Major Disaster Declaration for the state of Hawaii. This made federal funding available to supplement rehabilitation efforts in Maui. In short, Federal funding will provide local governments with the money and resources necessary to remove debris and enact emergency safety precautions in Maui County.
In addition, The White House ratified $8.2 million to aid more than 2,700 households, including $3.4 million in initial rental assistance.
On Monday, August 21, President Biden surveyed the wreckage and observed the ruins of Lahaina during an aerial tour. Biden commended the people of Maui for their “remarkable resiliency” and conveyed a message of unity towards the victims. “We’re focused on what’s next. That’s rebuilding for the long term …and doing it together. The American people stand with you,” said President Biden.