Wildfires in Hawaii claim dozens of lives and destroy over 1,000 structures

Climate Emergency

Wildfires in Hawaii claim dozens of lives and destroy over 1,000 structures

Wild fires ravaged much of Lāhainā on Maui island in Hawaii this week. (U.S. Coast Guard Hawai'i Pacific District 14/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

At the time of publication, at least 55 people have died in Hawaii this week after wildfires ravaged the island state. The fires mark the largest natural disaster in Hawaii since 1960 when a tsunami claimed 61 lives. Amid the carnage, Hawaii’s governor Josh Green told The Associated Press over 1,000 structures have been destroyed, including several landmarks in Lāhainā on Maui island, a place known for its lush beaches built up by colonizers starting in the early-1800s.

Lāhainā “has been burned down,” the governor said. To date, more than 270 structures have been impacted there. Several of its most lauded buildings, such as the Baldwin Home Museum, a two-story wooden house believed to be the oldest building in Maui, are beyond repair. Waiola Church, a “beloved” 200-year-old building; and the Wo Hing Temple Museum, an edifice built by Chinese immigrants in the early-1900s imported to Hawaii as contract sugar plantation laborers, have also been destroyed.

A 150-year-old Banyan Tree cherished by locals and tourists has also incinerated. The National Park Service designated the Banyan Tree as a national landmark sixty years ago. The sprawling vegetation was imported from India in 1873 and planted at the foot of the Lāhainā Courthouse by colonizers. It occupies an entire city block and is 60 feet tall, making it one of the largest trees in the United States. For decades, locals enjoyed relaxing under its canopy. 

The beloved Banyan Tree pictured in 2009 (Melikamp/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Several Maui residents have given blistering accounts directed toward government leaders since the fires broke out saying they were given zero notice that a natural disaster was coming. “We just kind of figured it out on our own,” Maui resident Tiare Abraham told CBS News. “I realized when it was time to go when the smoke was so dark, we could not see anything outside.”

The catastrophe comes amid similar occurrences happening in places around the world subjected to colonization. The International Energy Agency, a think tank, reported that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) will face the most dire effects of global warming, exacerbating a situation that the United Nations called “climate apartheid.” The UN also noted that global warming “threatens to undo the last 50 years” of aid programming that sought to address global health and poverty reduction. 

Hawaii’s governor said over 1,000 structures have been destroyed. (US Civil Air Patrol/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

Hawaii’s governor estimated that reconstruction will cost billions of dollars. President Biden responded swiftly to the fires in Hawaii. On Thursday, POTUS passed a “major disaster declaration for Hawaii” that opens up the state to federal aid to support recovery. 

“Recovering from these devastating fires will take significant time and resources, and we need all the federal support we can get,” Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz said in a press statement. “It will unlock federal resources and help our state and county governments respond to and recover from these fires and help the people of Maui and Hawaii island.”