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IPFS News Link • Natural Disasters

Hawaii residents fear 'the next catastrophe'

• by Darryl Fears, Allyson Chiu, Elahe Izadi

 "We're on one of the driest spots on the island," she said, an area awash in the same types of dried vegetation that helped transform the Maui wildfire into a raging monster that destroyed Lahaina.

"Not a lot of wind comes through," said DeCorte, a 43-year-old mother of three, "but when it does it can pick up at the snap of a finger just like at Lahaina." And yet, she is unaware of a county or state evacuation plan for her community and hasn't heard of a rescue plan for residents in case the worst happens. "It's definitely a concern because we were never faced with something like this before."

Across the chain of Hawaiian islands — notably the larger, more populated islands of Hawaii and Oahu — many residents are grieving and fearing that a West Maui disaster could strike their communities. As of Friday in Lahaina, at least 115 people had been confirmed dead, with 385 missing and more than 2,000 structures destroyed. Damage projections were as high as $6 billion.

Hawaiians are on edge because the conditions that fueled the fast-moving inferno are all around them. Their islands are plagued by sprawling fallow fields — a legacy of the plantation era that endured for decades until many farms and ranches abruptly closed at the end of the last century.

Tens of thousands of acres where sugar cane and pineapples once grew have become overgrown with invasive vegetation, such as fountain and guinea grasses that can ignite easily and burn for weeks. The state's explosion of fire events, from 5,000 acres annually to 20,000 in recent decades, can likely be traced to plantations that altered the natural landscape, according to Clay Trauernicht, a University of Hawaii wildland fire specialist quoted by the Associated Press.