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Lahaina Wildfire

August 24, 2023

Lahaina, located on the northwest coast of the Hawaiian island of Maui, experienced a devasting wildfire in August 2023. Several factors likely contributed to the severity of this wildfire including enhancement of strong easterly winds by Hurricane Dora, Katabatic winds flowing from the West Maui Mountains, located to the east of Lahaina, and drought conditions.

The precipitation rate for all of Hawaii has been extracted from the NCEP Reanalysis data between 1980 and 2023 and is shown in the graph. The precipitation rate for February 2023 was the highest recorded since 1980 at nearly three times the average. Precipitation rates throughout the spring were above average but by June it is below average, with July being extremely dry in the bottom 5% of years.

The February and spring rainfall likely contributed to a growth of vegetation. During dry seasons an increase in fuel availability contributes to the wildfire risk. Precipitation rates over Hawaii have been well below normal for June and July leading to drought conditions across Hawaii. According to the US Drought Monitor the most severe droughts over Hawaii in South and West Maui (where Lahaina is located). It is likely that the drought conditions combined with an abundance of fuel from the wet February and spring were contributory factors in the severity of the Lahaina wildfire.

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