Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Catastrophic Wildfires Devastate Maui Communities

TUESDAY, AUGUST 15, 2023, AS OF 3:00 PM EST

According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), there are currently 85 active large wildfires burning more than 546,000 across the United States (US) in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawai’i, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington. On Tuesday, August 8, 2023, wildfires broke out on the Island of Maui, Hawai’i, due to flash drought conditions and high winds enhanced by a category (CAT) 4 Hurricane Dora, passing off the southern coast of the State. These catastrophic wildfires caused over 99 fatalities, numerous injuries, and more than 1,000 people to become unaccounted for across the island of Maui. Additionally, the wildfires destroyed over 1,700 structures in the historic town of Lahaina. According to the Lieutenant Governor of Hawai’i, the Maui Wildfire has now been classified as the deadliest wildfire to take place in the US in over 100 years, surpassing the Camp Fire that took place in Paradise, California, in 2018, and resulted in over 85 fatalities.

Government Leaders Tour Wailuku: FEMA

Following extreme wildfire events beginning Tuesday, August 8, Hawai’i Governor Josh Green, MD, and Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke have issued five emergency proclamations to assist impacted residents. Governor Green’s most recent proclamation, issued on Monday, August 14, notes that only essential travel should be made to West Maui, ensuring that those impacted by the fires can get emergency services. This proclamation follows the August 8 federal disaster declaration approved by President Biden on August 10, making federal funds available to individuals and business owners within Maui County and surrounding impacted regions. In remarks about the disaster declaration, Governor Green said, “As governor of the State of Hawai‘i, I pledge to spare no resources to combat the destructive wildfires, shelter the displaced, treat and bring comfort to the traumatized, support our first responders, restore communication lines and enlist the aid of our federal and county partners to confront this once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) encourages individuals who have been directly impacted by wildfires to apply for disaster assistance funding made available through the federal disaster declaration. Funding is also available to government and partner organizations to assist with debris removal, emergency protective measures, and sheltering. Additionally, in a press conference on August 13, Governor Green announced that aid would be made available for locals left without shelter, allocating

According to Hagerty’s Executive Chairman and former FEMA Administrator Brock Long, historically, infrastructure recovery and rebuilding in the wake of wildfires can take years of recovery time and federal, state, and private assistance and aid.

Twitter: Hawai’i State Department of Health (DOH)

Additionally, the County of Maui has issued an Unsafe Water Advisory (UWA) for residents in Lahaina and Upper Kula area. Maui officials from the Department of Water Supply (DWS) noted that residents should not drink or boil water but instead use bottled water for all drinking, brushing teeth, ice making, and food preparation until further notice. Affected areas can be located using the County’s DWS map. For further updates and public health information throughout the State of Hawai’i, residents are encouraged to follow advisories from the Hawai’i Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) Facebook Page, Maui Emergency Management Agency (MEMA)’s Facebook page, and FEMA’s Hawaii Wildfires Webpage.

National Weather Service (NWS): Wildfires Escalate Quickly

Wildfires can happen in any part of the country at any time, spreading quickly and unpredictably. FEMA urges individuals to be prepared and take necessary safety measures before and during a wildfire. In the event of a wildfire, it is important to follow evacuation orders immediately and adhere to the additional safety guidance provided by FEMA, including:

  • Evacuate right away if instructed to do so by authorities;
  • Remove all leaves, debris, or flammable materials within at least 30 feet of your home;
  • Monitor emergency alert systems for the most up-to-date information; and
  • Pack an emergency supplies kit, including an N95 mask.

It is essential to stay informed about severe weather events by ensuring you receive real-time guidance from authorities. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA)’s NWS provides active alerts by type of weather emergency and location, as well as NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts. Additional ways to receive the most up-to-date safety instruction is through real-time notifications available via the FEMA Mobile App, enabling Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) on your phone, and signing up to receive alerts from your local emergency management office.

Over the coming days and weeks, the Hagerty Blog Team will continue to provide guidance on making effective preparations for long-term recovery, as well as continuing our situational updates.