Based on new wildfire data from CoreLogic, Maui's wildfires disrupted life for thousands of people when flames damaged or destroyed homes starting this past Tuesday. In addition to extensive property damage, the fires forced thousands of evacuations; 55 deaths, disrupted communication systems and transportation networks, including cell service, road closures and flights; and burdened firefighting efforts.
The situation in Maui is currently ongoing, says CoreLogic. The full extent of the damage will be unknown for some time. The cause of the Maui fires is currently under investigation.
Early reports indicate extensive property damage and loss of life on the island of Maui. The greatest concentration of damage is in Lahaina, a town on the island's western coast. Flames burned the Baldwin House, the oldest home on Maui, as well as many other homes and businesses. According to the County of Maui press release from Aug. 9th, over 271 structures were damaged or destroyed in Lahaina.
High-speed winds, extreme gusts and building construction materials are likely the biggest drivers of wildfire spread in Lahaina.
"The source and ignition of the fire are still undetermined, but once the fire moved into the more developed regions of Lahaina, it appears the fire was able to intensify and spread very quickly," said Dr. Thomas Jeffery, CoreLogic Principal Wildfire Scientist. "The winds likely pushed embers and flames into the built environment, and then the buildings in Lahaina became the primary source of fuel for the expansion of the fire. Many of the residential properties in Lahaina appear to have wood siding, and a number of them have elevated porches with a lattice underneath. Both are characteristics that make the residence very vulnerable to either ember or direct flame ignition. The reported wind speeds and comprehensive urban damage indicate that what likely happened in Lahaina was a true urban conflagration that could have been the result of an initial grass fire."
The 60 mph wind gusts resulted from a pressure gradient extending across Hawaii. A high-pressure ridge over the northern Pacific Ocean and the low-pressure center of Hurricane Dora, which was 500 miles south-southwest of Hawaii, created a strong pressure gradient, fueling the gusts and amplifying wildfire-spread rates.
CoreLogic estimates approximately 3,088 single and multifamily residential properties with a combined reconstruction value of $1.3 billion are within three preliminary wildfire perimeters on Maui. The majority of residential properties are located in Lahaina.