Hawaii officials were warned years ago that Maui’s Lahaina faced High Wildfire Risk


Wall Street Journal 12th August 2023

Nearly a decade before a wildfire destroyed the coastal Maui town of Lahaina this week, killing at least 89 people, a report by Hawaiian fire researchers warned that the area was at extremely high risk of burning.

Another report, in 2020, tied fires to winds from a passing hurricane—similar to the ones that fanned the Lahaina blaze.

And the state’s electric utility had for years worried about wildfire risk in the area. It even flew drones to monitor conditions.

Yet local authorities said in the aftermath of this week’s devastation that though they knew wildfires were becoming more frequent in Hawaii, they weren’t prepared for one to roar through Lahaina.

The fire hit the coastal town so quickly and caught officials so off-guard that emergency sirens didn’t sound. Many panicked residents were unable to flee on the town’s one clogged highway and took boats or swam to safety, if they were able to escape at all.

In 2014, a wildfire-protection plan for the area was written by the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, a non-profit that works with government agencies. It warned that Lahaina was among Maui’s most fire-prone areas because of its proximity to parched grasslands, steep terrain and frequent winds.

The plan, which involved Maui and state officials, laid out a multitude of mitigation measures that needed to be undertaken to shield the area around Lahaina from fires. They included thinning vegetation near populated areas, improving wildfire-response capabilities and working with landowners and utilities to help reduce fire risk on their property.

Some of the recommendations from the 2014 plan, which was devised after more than a half-dozen community meetings, were implemented, like brush thinning efforts and public education for landowners, said the report’s lead author, Elizabeth Pickett. But others, such as ramping up emergency-response capacity, have been stymied by a lack of funding, logistical hurdles in rugged terrain and competing priorities, said Pickett, co-executive director of the wildfire non-profit.

“We’ve been hammering this home, and it’s just really frustrating and heart breaking to see that some things could have been done, but we couldn’t find money,” she said. “We are living through what happens when there’s a lag and everyone’s still catching up.”

Representatives for the Hawaii State and Maui county governments didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Asked at a press conference Thursday why the state wasn’t more prepared, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said, “We’ve never experienced a wildfire that affected a city like this before.

He said officials were particularly surprised that Hurricane Dora, which passed by Hawaii this week, caused winds as strong as 60 miles an hour (100 km/h) , driving the blaze into Lahaina faster than emergency responders and residents could keep up.

“This was, of course, a shock to see a hurricane and its winds and trade winds cause collateral damage, which was the spread of fire,” he said.

But that risk was known too.

The fire danger from passing hurricanes in Hawaii was documented in a 2020 report by researchers at the University of Hawaii and the East-West Center, which tied a 2018 outbreak of fires on both Maui and Oahu to winds from Hurricane Lane.

Like Hurricane Dora, Hurricane Lane passed the islands to the south, but sparked four fires—three on West Maui and one on Oahu—which blackened about 3,000 acres.

Over the past decade, an average of 20,000 acres have burned annually in Hawaii, more than quadruple the pace from a century ago, according to the Pacific Fire Exchange, a wildfire research group.

One of the main causes has been the proliferation of non-native grass and shrubs, the group said.

The researchers in the 2020 hurricane report said the fires tied to Lane ignited in areas dominated by non-native grasses, which are exceptionally flammable and have proliferated in recent years, now covering one-quarter of the state.

Non-native grasses blanketed the sloped terrain around Lahaina.

Utility Lines

Jennifer Potter, a former state public utility commissioner who lives on Maui, said she began hearing growing concern from community members about fire activity on the island beginning in 2019. That same year, Hawaiian Electric, the state’s main utility, said it would fly drones over areas including West Maui to identify utility lines prone to wildfires.

Documents show Hawaiian Electric submitted a request for funding in 2022 from the public utilities commission to help offset the $189.7 million it said it needed to bolster its power grid across the state, including wildfire-prevention measures. The request is still being processed.

A spokesman for the utility didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“There was absolutely knowledge within the state and within the electric industry that fire was a huge, huge concern on the island of Maui, and even more so than any of the other islands,” Potter said. “I don’t think it’s fair to say we’ve never seen this coming.”

Residents of Lahaina said they didn’t see the fire coming just hours before it reached their town Tuesday.

Around 9 a.m. local time that day, Maui officials said the wildfire outside Lahaina had been 100% contained. By midafternoon, however, it had grown out of control, driven by winds as strong as 60 miles an hour.

The Wildfire


“The fire that day moved so quickly, that from where it started in the brush to where it moved into the neighbourhood, communications back to those who make [emergency] notifications were physically nearly impossible,” he said.

Some Lahaina residents said they received emergency alerts, but many didn’t. The fire disabled cellular service in the city, as well as power and water.

Hawaii has what it says is one of the world’s largest siren systems to warn people of all kinds of events, including wildfires and hurricanes. Maui County has 80. State records don’t indicate that the sirens sounded in Lahaina, according to the Associated Press.

“Normally there’d be, like, a hurricane siren or something. None of that stuff went off,” said Kevin Campbell, who escaped Lahaina with his pregnant wife, Tasha.

When he tried to persuade friends to leave, he said, some argued that it was pointless for them to go. The single-lane Honoapi’ilani Highway, the main road out of town, was jammed with cars. Portions of it were closed because of downed power lines from the earlier windstorms.

Some residents and tourists abandoned their gridlocked cars on foot, while others rammed vehicles through gates, fled by boat, or waited out the fire in the ocean, witnesses said.

“It was so damn fast, by the time I realized, it was like a rainstorm of red sparks going sideways,” said Jo Ann Hayashi, who spent hours wading in the water of Lahaina Harbor to escape the flames.

Ginger Adams Otis, Suryatapa Bhattacharya and Christine Mai-Duc contributed to this article.











Meeting at Infarmed concerning evolution of Covid-19 -Live updates – 23 /03/ 2021

Today, another meeting is taking place at Infarmed, in which the Government and political figures meet with experts to analyze the epidemiological situation in Portugal.

At Infarmed, in Lisbon, from 10 am, as has been happening since February, only the Minister of Health, Marta Temido, and most epidemiologists will be present.

The remaining participants, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, António Costa and Ferro Rodrigues, party representatives, members of the Council of State and social partners, will follow the meeting by videoconference.

This week the Assembly of the Republic is expected to debate and vote on the draft presidential decree for the renewal of the state of emergency for a new period of 15 days, with effect from April 1 and which will cover the Easter period.

The session begins with a presentation by André Peralta Santos, from the Directorate-General for Health, on the epidemiological situation , following the perspective of the evolution of the incidence and transmissibility of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, in charge of Baltazar Nunes and Ricardo Mexia, from the National Institute of Health Doutor Ricardo Jorge (INSA) .

João Paulo Gomes, also from INSA, will update the virus variants in the country, with Henrique de Barros, from the Public Health Institute of the University of Porto, giving a presentation on a year of learning from covid-19 in Portugal .

The meeting continues with the presentation of the social perceptions of the pandemic in the country, in charge of Carla Nunes, from the National School of Public Health of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, and with the status of vaccination by the coordinator of the vice-admiral task force Henrique Gouveia e Melo .

The meeting starts 10.08 hrs

André Santos Peralta, the DGS, says there was a “downward trend of maintaining” the incidence of the virus, with an average of 79 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. However, in Greater Lisbon, “there are already some municipalities” with a growing trend. The active population became the population with the highest incidence, but there was a “very expressive” decrease in hospitalizations in the infirmary and ICU.

The active population became the population with the highest incidence, but there was a “very expressive” decrease in hospitalizations in the infirmary and ICU. “in a scenario of great incidence, only the population from 40 to 60 is enough to exceed the indicator of 245 beds of hospitalizations in ICU”. That is, “To be completely safe, the age group to be vaccinated will have to go up to these ages”.

Lisbon and Tagus Valley has the highest incidence (more cases per 100 thousand inhabitants every 14 days).

Regarding hospitalizations, there is a maintenance of the decline in the +60 group. In the ICUs, there is a “very significant drop” in the group of 50, 60 and 70 years old.

As for the variants, that of the United Kingdom increased, reaching 73% in Lisbon and Vale do Tejo and above 60% in the North.

The testing rate is “quite considerable” and the 4% positive ceiling is only found “in some municipalities”. There has been a greater speed in laboratory notification, revealed the expert.

English variant already represents more than 70% of the cases in the Lisbon and Tagus Valley region. “There has been an increase”

A new fact about lethality: “In the week of March 1st to 7th, there was a decrease in lethality in the more than 80 years,” he says.

Regarding the virus variants, especially in the United Kingdom, there was an increase, with a prevalence of new variants in the order of 73.3% in the Lisbon region, and 60% / 65% in the North and Center, and in the rest of the country the estimate is more uncertain but it will be around 30% in the Alentejo and 70% in the Algarve.

People who leave home are the most difficult to avoid visiting family and friends



There are some measures that are easier to take, such as wearing a mask, but others that are more difficult, such as keeping your distance or teleworking. However, there were “critical indicators” that were analyzed such as “avoiding visiting family or friends” and “staying at home”
In these two indicators, there were 36.9% of people who admitted that it was difficult or very difficult not to visit family or friends and 35.2% to stay at home.
In a finer analysis, Carla Nunes says that “it is the people who naturally leave home, the ones who most report having more difficulty in avoiding visiting family members with friends”
Carla Nunes, from the National School of Public Health, presents the barometer data on the various public health indicators and notes that there are “slight” changes both in behaviour and in the perception of the global health status.
“46.3% of people saying they had reasonable, bad or very bad or overall health status” and “1 in 5 of people – felt agitated, anxious or sad” in the past few days.
In addition, says the professor at the National School of Public Health, there was a “slight increase in worse behaviors”.

The coordinator of the vaccination plan against covid-19, Henrique Gouveia e Melo, revealed that, in April, “about 1.8 million vaccines” will arrive in Portugal. The 70% vaccinees are still expected “by the end of the summer” and, in the second quarter, the number of inoculations will reach between 95 thousand and 100 thousand per day.
1.8 million vaccines have already arrived in the country, 95,000 of which went to the archipelagos. Until Saturday 1.3 million vaccines had been administered and, this week, another 177 thousand will be administered.

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