By Aakansha Malia 3:26 pm PST

With one of the deadliest fires in the modern history of the United States, Hawaii is reeling from catastrophic wildfires, killing dozens, displacing thousands, and wiping out communities. Fifty-five people have been found dead, with the toll expected to rise as the rescue operations continue.

Governor Josh Green of Hawaii said on August 10 that the devastating wildfires that swept through western Maui are “likely the largest natural disaster in Hawaii state history.” Green also said, “It will be a new Lahaina that Maui builds in its image with its values.”

Levelling as many as 1000 buildings, the inferno, which unleased destruction mainly in the resort town of Lahaina ”will take many years and billions of dollars to rebuild” as stated by Hawain officials. Although the firefighters have contained 80% of the wildfire, which tore through Lahaina as of August 10, another fire in the hills of Maui’s central Upcountry is still being assessed.

U.S. President Joe Biden signed a disaster declaration on August 10 that will direct significant federal resources toward recovery in Maui and the Big Island. Maui’s Lahaina Town, a tourism hub and historic whaling village, has been decimated. Hawaii’s Mayor Richard Bissen said on August 10, “None of it’s there. It’s all burnt to the ground.” Hawaii’s Governor estimated that about 80% of the community is destroyed.

While thousands of homes have been destroyed, approximately 30,000 people have flown out of Maui, as per the Hawaii Tourism Authority. According to, 11,000 people across Maui have been left without power. The wildfire had also appeared to have reached the famous, massive banyan tree imported to the island in 1873 sitting along Front Street. But the tree remains mostly standing, according to reports at the scene.

Scientists say that the historic fire will impact the region’s environment long-term. Burning commercial structures will leave concentrated synthetic materials in the sea, destroying the already affected coral reef. The loss of reefs will have detrimental consequences for the ecosystem.

Andrew Whelton, a professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University, told the Associated Press that the wildfires can contaminate private wells, water systems, and even municipal water systems. As the fire spreads deep inside the forests, scientists fear that more forest land will be covered by grass. Post-fire soil erosion can smother coral, impacts fisheries, and reduces ocean water quality.

What sparked the deadly fire is still under investigation. However, hurricane winds and dry weather in large parts of Hawaii, including the island of Maui, have fueled the flames. A state defined by its lush green vegetation has been called abnormally dry by the U.S. Drought Monitor. Before the fire broke out, Maui was already under a red flag alert due to rising temperatures, low humidity, and stronger winds.

Scientists say that dry conditions combined with non-native grasses, which are more susceptible to fire, could have caused a spark to ignite a fire. A separate threat also amplified the fire in Hawaii: Hurricane Dora, which passed south of Hawaii as a Category 4 storm on August 8. Last occurring in 2018, wildfire was an uncommon phenomenon in Hawaii caused by volcanic eruptions or lightning strikes. But in recent decades, human activity has made them more common and extreme.