Tue. Feb 27th, 2024

Once unthinkable, frequent fires are Hawaii’s new normal.

By 37ci3 Feb 3, 2024



“We started spreading the word about it in 2014,” Trauernicht said, noting that the frequency and severity of fires have only increased since then. “It’s not that [just] The Lahaina problem. They got the worst result you can imagine.”

Surprise

Chris Speicher has been selling Maui real estate for over five years. Customers may ask about hurricanes, but fires are rare, he said. People don’t associate it with Hawaii.

“Fire risk is something that needs to be discussed openly,” Speicher said. “I think it’s a surprise to people.”

Like many of his clients, Speicher said when he first moved to the West Maui coast in 2018, where Lahaina is located, he didn’t realize how much land the islands could have. “West Maui is only green for a few months. a year. The rest of the time passes like a desert,” he said. West Maui has always been dry, but as carefully maintained sugarcane and pineapple plantations—both tropical plants—closed, it became covered with non-native, hard-to-remove burning grasses.

Dry buffelgrass in Lahaina. (Washington Post via Matt McClain/Getty Images)

Dry buffelgrass in Lahaina. (Washington Post via Matt McClain/Getty Images)

Over the next five years, Speicher was evacuated five times from three different West Maui homes due to nearby wildfires.

A few months after he arrived on the island, a wildfire driven by high winds from Hurricane Lane burned more than 2,000 acres, including parts of Lahaina, and caused about $4 million in damage. Although Speicher’s home survived the fire, two neighbors lost their homes.

In August 2023, Speicher was living in Kaanapali, north of Lahaina, when his family received another evacuation order for a wildfire driven by hurricane-force winds.

Speicher said even though her house survived, she doesn’t feel more prepared. His family returned there, but were evacuated two more times over the next three weeks for nearby fires. The third time was the final straw for Speicher and his wife, who decided to leave Hawaii altogether. He said that they are tired of being constantly vigilant in case of a fire. They continue to sell their Maui property, but now live in Maryland.

Chris Speicher, right, with friend Joe Schilling at his home in Kaanapali, Maui. Speicher safely evacuated his home during the 2023 Maui wildfires. Schilling died in the Lahaina fire.

Chris Speicher, right, with friend Joe Schilling at his home in Kaanapali, Maui. Speicher safely evacuated his home during the 2023 Maui wildfires. Schilling died in the Lahaina fire.

A federal analysis of wildfire risk to communities shows that of all 50 states, Hawaii has the highest risk of “fire consequence” — the likelihood of high-intensity fires near homes.

“When we did this modeling four years ago and saw how high Hawaii ranked, we asked ourselves and really thought, ‘Could this be right?'” said Joe Scott, one of the lead researchers on the analysis and head of Pyrologix. wildfire risk research company. His team ran the numbers again. “We were very surprised by this result, but we couldn’t find a reason why it was wrong.”



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By 37ci3

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