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Wildfires in Hawaii

Context:

In one of the worst natural disasters to hit the US, multiple wildfires are raging through Hawaii, especially the island of Maui.

  • So far,80 people have died and thousands have been displaced. More than 48 hours after it started, the fires are yet to be brought under complete control by crews.

Relevance:

GS I- Geography

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is wildfire?
  2. What causes Wildfire?
  3. Impact of Wildfires in Hawaii
  4. How dangerous is inhaling wildfire smoke?

What is wildfire?

  • A wildfire is an uncontrolled fire that burns in the wildland vegetation, often in rural areas. 
  • Wildfires can burn in forests, grasslands, savannas, and other ecosystems, and have been doing so for hundreds of millions of years.
  • They are not limited to a particular continent or environment.
What causes Wildfire?
  • Wildfires require right climatic conditions, burnable fuel and a spark.
  • Rising temperatures suck moisture out of plants, creating an abundance of dry fuel.
  • Drought and high heat can kill plants and dry out dead grass, and other material on the forest floor that fuel the fire once it starts sweeping through a patch.
  • While dry vegetation is the burnable fuel that serves as kindling for fires, the spark is sometimes caused by lightning, at other times by accident or recklessness of the local population.

Impact of Wildfires in Hawaii

Affected Areas:
  • The recent wildfires in Hawaii have primarily impacted the island of Maui, which is part of the Hawaiian archipelago.
  • The coastal town of Lahaina, known for its art galleries and historical significance, has reportedly been devastated by the fire.
  • Other affected areas include the coastal cities of Kihei and the picturesque mountain slopes of Kula, both located on Maui.
  • Parts of the Big Island (Hawai’i) have also been affected by the wildfires.
Causes of the Wildfires:
  • Human and Natural Causes: The exact cause of the fire remains uncertain, but it is likely a combination of both human and natural factors.
  • Human-Caused: Data from sources like the US Forest Service indicates that a significant proportion (85 percent) of wildfires in the US are caused by human activities, including campfires, garbage burning, equipment malfunctions, and cigarette disposal.
  • Natural Causes: Natural causes such as volcanic activity and lightning strikes also contribute to wildfires.
  • Drought Conditions: Maui was experiencing severe drought, leading to dry conditions and dry non-native grasses and vegetation that served as fuel for the fires.
Role of Hurricane Dora:
  • Wind Origin: The wildfires were exacerbated by strong winds that blew at almost 100 kmph. These winds originated from Hurricane Dora, a powerful Pacific storm.
  • Atmospheric Pressure Zones: While Hurricane Dora did not directly hit Hawaii, the islands were situated between high and low-pressure zones created by the hurricane. This led to the strong winds spreading the fire and making containment efforts challenging.
Climate Change’s Influence:
  • Amplifying Wildfires: Climate change itself doesn’t directly cause wildfires, but it intensifies their impact and likelihood.
  • Increased Severity: Climate change results in more severe and larger wildfires by creating conditions conducive to their spread.
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases, contributing to global warming, which in turn contributes to more favorable conditions for wildfires.
  • Future Projection: According to the United Nations, climate change is expected to lead to a significant increase in extreme wildfires globally over the coming decades.

How dangerous is inhaling wildfire smoke?

  • While fire poses a direct risk to people’s life and property, wildfire smoke, and particularly the concentration of PM 2.5, or particles smaller than 2.5 microns, can also affect the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
  • For those already suffering from cardiovascular or respiratory illnesses, there is a risk of flare-ups.

Source: Indian Express


March 2024
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