NWS Issues 'Red Flag Warning' for All of Hawaii

Weather agency says wind gusts, low humidity have upped risk of rapid-spreading fires on islands
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 31, 2023 12:36 PM CDT
NWS Issues 'Red Flag Warning' for All of Hawaii
A man views the aftermath of a wildfire in Lahaina, Hawaii, on Aug. 19.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The National Weather Service on Wednesday warned that gusty winds and low humidity have increased the risk that fires could spread rapidly in the western parts of each Hawaiian island, three weeks after a deadly blaze tore through a coastal Maui town during a similar alert. But the agency said winds wouldn't be as powerful compared to Aug. 8, when flames burned down much of Lahaina, killing at least 115 people and destroying more than 2,000 structures. The fire was the deadliest in the United States in more than a century, per the AP.

Lahaina's flames were fanned by wind gusts topping 60mph. This time, winds are forecast to be 15mph to 30mph, with gusts up to 50mph, said Maureen Ballard, meteorologist at the agency's Honolulu office. "There is a magnitude of difference between the wind speeds in this event versus August 8," Ballard said. The agency issued a Red Flag Warning for the leeward sides of the Hawaiian Islands through Thursday afternoon. It said gusts, low humidity, and dry grasses and trees could contribute to "extreme fire behavior." It urged people to delay activities that could throw off sparks.

"It's definitely still something to be concerned about," Ballard said. The Lahaina fire was fueled by powerful winds whipped up by a combination of Hurricane Dora, which passed some 500 miles to the south, and a very strong high-pressure system to the north of the islands. The cause of the blaze hasn't been determined, but it's possible it was ignited by bare electrical wire and leaning power poles toppled by the strong winds. Maui's electric utility, Hawaiian Electric, acknowledged its power lines started a wildfire on Maui, but it faulted county firefighters for declaring the blaze contained and leaving the scene, only to have a second wildfire break out nearby.

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Maui County has sued the utility. As high winds reentered the weather forecast on Tuesday, the county, Hawaiian Electric, and Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, head of the Hawaii National Guard, issued a joint statement saying they were working together to minimize the risk of wildfire and ensure public safety. "In our lifetimes, Hawaii has never been tested like this," the statement said. "We will do what we have always done when confronted by hardship and heartbreak—we will stand together for our people and communities and work to keep them safe."

(More Hawaii stories.)

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