The scenes from the Maui wildfire, in particular Lahaina, are absolutely devastating. As of August 17th, the ferocious fire that consumed nearly the entire city of Lahaina had claimed over 111 lives with up to 1,000 people still missing. The nearly 2,200 acre blaze scorched over 2,000 homes and businesses. It’s believed the fire was ignited when high winds toppled trees onto power lines. Drought conditions preceded the fire and the area was under a Red Flag Warning due to conditions favorable for fires to ignite and spread quickly. That said, no one could have anticipated the catastrophe that would eventually unfold.

The fires started in the higher terrain of West Maui and were fanned by wind gusts up to 80mph that created a firestorm. A very tight pressure gradient between high pressure north of the Hawaiian Islands and Hurricane Dora passing to the south, ramped up the fierce winds and pushed the fires down the hillsides into Lahaina in a matter of an hour or two. Many residents had nowhere to escape the inferno. Others literally ran into the ocean as the wind-swept flames rampaged through the city. Sadly, strong currents swept some of these people out to sea while thick smoke made it extraordinary difficult for the Coast Guard to rescue others who fled into the rough seas.

Several other factors may have contributed to this calamity. Power outages led to communication issues. Fire hydrants ran dry preventing firefighters from slowing the spread of the fire. Hawaii has one of the largest siren warning systems in the world, but the 80 alarms on Maui stayed silent as flames spread. The sirens are primarily used to warn when a tsunami is approaching the area, and if they had sounded, officials believed many residents would’ve sought higher ground where the fire was at its worst. About 40% of the burn zone had been searched as of August 17th, and authorities hope to cover much of it by the weekend.