Hurricane Dora is fuelling Hawaii wildfires. Here’s how

Winds reached up to 45 miles an hour, with gusts of up to 60 mph

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Tuesday 15 August 2023 08:43 BST
Roadside devastated by Hurricane Dora and wildfire in Hawaii

The wildfires in Hawaii damaging buildings and leading to evacuations are spurred on by heavy winds coming from Hurricane Dora off the islands’ coast.

The storm was moving west across the Pacific Ocean hundreds of miles south of Hawaii on Wednesday.

To the west of Maui, residents scarpered into the ocean to avoid the fires and smoke. County officials said they were rescued by the US Coast Guard.

Winds reached up to 45 miles an hour, with gusts of up to 60 mph, according to the National Weather Service. The agency told residents on social media to secure their property and to prepare for lost power and travel disruptions.

The category four storm was more than 700 miles south of the state capital Honolulu late on Tuesday and it was not expected to make landfall, The New York Times reported.

A meteorologist at the Weather Service’s office in Honolulu, Robert Bohlin, told the paper that while the hurricane wasn’t directly responsible for the worsening conditions in the island state, it has made the winds stronger in the area.

By Tuesday, the fires in Hawaii and Maui counties had scorched hundreds of acres, lieutenant governor Sylvia Lake said in her proclamation activating the National Guard. She’s acting governor while Governor Josh Green travels out of state.

There were more than 14,000 customers out of power in Hawaii County on Wednesday, according to

The 911 emergency reporting system was down in West Maui early on Wednesday, where residents were urged to make direct calls to the police department, according to county officials.

Areas of Maui were placed under orders to evacuate. Two shelters were shut down as the flames closed in, with those inside being moved on to other locations.

Margo Brousseau, 52, told The New York Times that she was able to smell the smoke at the Kihei Community Center before it was closed. Ms Brousseau is visiting with her family – they were planning on staying the night in a van in the shelter’s car park. They had rented the vehicle after their Tuesday night flight home was cancelled.

She told the paper that the airline staff told them that “there is nowhere we can put you because all of these hotels don’t have power and all these people are being evacuated from their own resorts, so we don’t have anywhere to offer you”.

The Weather Service said that a red flag warning was in effect for some parts of the Hawaii islands, meaning that they were, or would soon be, under critical fire conditions.

The winds in Hawaii are set to slow on Wednesday as a high-pressure system to the north is decreasing in strength and Hurricane Dora moves further west, according to the Weather Service.

Hurricanes have spurred wildfires in the past – not just by the winds giving fires a push but also by giving them more fuel to burn. Hurricane Michael took down large amounts of trees in Florida in 2018, making them a prime target for wildfires in the state last year.

In March 2022, University of Florida fire ecologist David Godwin wrote for The Conversation that Hurricane Michael had “a catastrophic impact on timber in the region. The hurricane dropped most of the standing trees into a jumbled mess that piled up on the ground”.

He added that a forest fire’s regular fuel load, as in “the total mass of burnable stuff on a site – is less than 10 tons per acre”.

Following the hurricane in the Florida panhandle, surveys found that there were more than 100 tons per acre in parts of the area.

“That’s off the charts. Everyone involved saw this storm had tremendous potential to affect wildfire activity for years to come,” Dr Godwin added. “In most fires within the region, only the ground cover and understory vegetation burn. Here, almost the entire forest is now on the ground – branches and trunks that normally wouldn’t be available to the fire are dead, dry and ready to burn.”

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