What Caused the Maui Fires in August 2023 — and What Can Be Done to Prevent Similar Fires from Happening Again?

As you are sure to know, the island of Maui, part of the Hawaiian archipelago, experienced devastating wildfires in August 2023.

The fires tragically reduced the town of Lahaina to ruins, approximately 115 people were killed, thousands of people were injured and displaced, and nearly 3,000 structures were damaged or destroyed.

 In the following article, we will explore what caused the fires and what can be done to prevent similar fires from happening again.

Natural Causes of the Maui Fires

While officials have not yet stated the exact cause of the wildfires on Maui, there is some suggestive evidence that sparks from a downed powerline may have contributed to at least one of the fires.

However, both climate researchers and meteorologists have noted that the fires were most likely to have been caused by several intersecting elements.

Most telling is the fact that the fires began at the height of the dry season in Hawaii. With dry grasslands and vegetation, wildfires can begin and spread more quickly.

Another contributing factor probably has to do with the presence of El Niño, in which unusually warm oceans in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean develop.

While El Niño causes increased rainfall in much of South America, it actually contributes to drought conditions on the islands of Hawaii.

The drought was at its height on Maui from June to August. In turn, vegetation became severely dry.

That is not all. Hurricane Dora was in full force at the beginning of August. The tropical cyclone, which had formed off the west coast of Mexico, passed the south of Hawaii’s islands on August 8, which is the day the Maui fires began.

The presence of Hurricane Dora created atmospheric pressure that drew high winds. Those winds, experts believe, contributed to intensifying and spreading the wildfires on Maui.

Hawaiian Electric Company’s Potential Contributory Role in the Maui Fires

While natural factors undoubtedly contributed to the Maui fires, which many experts believe is a sign of the changing world due to climate change, as mentioned above, it is believed that sparks from a downed powerline may have contributed to at least one of the fires.

Indeed, one local man videoed and live streamed sparking power lines that set fire to dry grass.

Therefore, many are holding Hawaiian Electric Company, which is the largest electricity provider in Hawaii, responsible.

As a result of Hawaiian Electric Company’s suspected negligence in the contribution of the Maui fires, the company is now facing three major lawsuits: a class action lawsuit, a personal injury lawsuit, and a wrongful death lawsuit.

In particular, the three types of Hawaiian electric wildfires lawsuit claim that the Hawaiian Electric Company failed to shut off its power during the dangers that were happening at the time.

What Can Be Done to Prevent Similar Fires from Happening Again?

Firstly, electric companies should make sure that they have robust protocols and plans of action in place for when wildfires break out. Turning off electricity supplies and taking other preventative measures needs to be a top priority when fires strike.

However, wildfires start due to natural elements. They are only exacerbated by manmade factors.

While there can never be any guarantees that specific actions will prevent or stop wildfires, especially during high winds, fire experts recommend that Hawaii officials look at their policies to ensure locals are kept safe and fires can be managed more easily should wildfires break out again.

For example, Hawaii should embrace better evacuation technology to move people out of danger more quickly.

While Hawaii’s Wireless Emergency Alert system was used, which sends alerts to people’s phones, many residents did not receive the messages due to power outages, caused by the high winds, to the cell service network.

Trimming dry vegetation better could also help to stop wildfires from spreading, so Hawaii officials should look at better ways of clearing vegetation in high-risk areas.

Lastly, many homes in Maui are not fire-resistant. Therefore, Maui and other places that are prone to wildfires should look at improving and rebuilding homes to make them more resistant to wildfire embers.

With a better plan of action, the people, the birds and other wildlife, and the homes and structures of Maui and Hawaii can be better protected should disaster strike again.