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Pushed by strong winds, Maui fires are similar to Colorado's Marshall Fire, FEMA Administrator says

"It reminds me very much of the fire that we saw in Boulder, Colorado at the end of 2021, where an entire community was burned to the ground," she said.
APTOPIX Hawaii Fires
Posted at 2:55 PM, Aug 10, 2023

Wildfires burning across the Hawaiian island of Maui are acting very similar to the 2021 Marshall Fire in Colorado, the administrator of FEMA said in an interview with CNN Thursday.

The Maui fires, which broke out Tuesday, have killed at least 55 people, making it the deadliest fire in the United States since the 2018 Camp Fire in California, according to the Associated Press (AP). The fires are fueled by a dry summer, parched vegetation, and unusually strong trade winds from Hurricane Dora, which is passing as a Category 4 storm about 500 miles south of the island.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, the first woman to lead the agency, told CNN that most of the fires in Maui are still burning out of control. FEMA is on the ground working with the state to help coordinate a response amid the widespread devastation, she said.

Hawaii Fires
This combination of satellite images provided by Maxar Technologies shows an overview of southern Lahaina on Maui, Hawaii, on June 25, 2023, left, and an overview of the same area on Wednesday, Aug. 9, following a wildfire that tore through the heart of the Hawaiian island. (Maxar Technologies via AP)

"It reminds me very much of the fire that we saw in Boulder, Colorado at the end of 2021, where an entire community was burned to the ground, spread by excessive winds like we're seeing from this fire," she said. "I think what we now see and the challenges that we're going to face is that it's, you know, limited our ability to where we can put people because it is isolated as an island. And so we're going to work closely with the state to understand what resources they need, and what types of creative solutions we're going to have to bring in to help this community in the interim recovery, but more importantly, in their long-term recovery."

At least 271 structures were damaged or destroyed, the AP reported on Wednesday. In addition to 36 deaths, dozens of people were injured.

Thirty-six people reported dead in Maui wildfires

Criswell noted how the fire acted similarly to the Marshall Fire.

The December 2021 Marshall Fire in Colorado's Boulder County burned through heavily populated areas, including Superior, Louisville and unincorporated parts of the county. It spread around neighborhoods as hurricane-force winds — with gusts between 70 and 100 mph — and extreme drought created favorable burning conditions. In total, it burned more than 6,000 acres and forced 35,000 people to evacuate.

More than 1,000 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Two people died and about 1,000 pets were lost.

The Marshall Fire began as two separate fires, the first of which was likely sparked by a resident's buried fire from about a week prior and the second which likely began as a result of a disconnected Xcel Energy power line, authorities said in June. The Boulder County District Attorney said based on an extensive investigation, no criminal charges were appropriate.

Officials said there are three fires currently burning on the island of Maui with no known cause. Similar to the Marshall Fire, the island saw gusts of about 80 mph on Tuesday, the AP reported. And Maui was struggling with an already dry season thanks to recent drought, like Boulder County in December 2021.

Hawaii Fires
This graphic shows the location of fires on the island of Maui, Hawaii, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023. Several thousand Hawaii residents raced to escape homes on Maui as the Lahaina fire swept across the island, killing multiple people and burning parts of a centuries-old town. (AP Photo)

Jeff Powell, a meteorologist in Honolulu, told the AP that the dryness and the gusts “make a dangerous fire situation so that fires that do exist can spread out of control very rapidly."

One of the fires reached the historic town of Lahaina, which holds deep significance for Hawaiians, according to the AP's reporting. About 13,000 people live in the community. The Lahaina Historic District, which encompasses downtown Lahaina, Front Street, and its vicinity, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962, according to the National Park Service.

One person told the AP that losing Front Street in Lahaina was “like losing a family member."

Thousands of people are displaced by the fires, Criswell said. The Coast Guard told the AP that it had rescued 14 people who jumped in the ocean to escape the flames.

APTOPIX Hawaii-Fires
A wildfire burns in Kihei, Hawaii late Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. Thousands of residents raced to escape homes on Maui as blazes swept across the island, destroying parts of a centuries-old town in one of the deadliest U.S. wildfires in recent years. (AP Photo/Ty O'Neil)

FEMA has opened its logistics center on Oahu and is providing meals for up 5,000 people for five days, with the intention to send more resources as needed.

The cause of the fires is under investigation.

Tourists have been asked to stay away from Maui. About 11,000 travelers flew out of the airport on Wednesday, the AP reported.

The Denver International Airport said it is monitoring the fires and United Airlines canceled all of its flights from the Denver International Airport to Maui on Wednesday. Instead, it flew the empty planes to the island and helped with the evacuations.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden declared a major disaster for the fires.

Experts told the AP that this is the latest in a series of disasters caused by extreme weather around the globe this summer, and climate change is increasing the likelihood of such events.

There are multiple ways to help residents of Maui:

Pushed by strong winds, Maui fires are similar to Colorado's Marshall Fire, FEMA Administrator says

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