Favorable fire conditions on Maui could be here to stay

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The Valley Isle has been ravaged by fires in 2019, with more than 10 blazes burning a nearly combined 22,000 acres of land.

According to the National Weather Service, much can be traced back to the warming of the ocean above Hawaii.

“There’s been abnormally dry conditions across Maui County in particular here over the last three months.” said NWS Lead Forecaster Jon Jelsema.

“We have this large area of warm water upstream from the islands that is anywhere from 2-3 degrees Farenheit above what it would typically be for this time of year. That air traveling over the water toward the islands is modified and just that 2-3 degree increase over the water will increase the temperatures here on the islands locally.”

The hot conditions and trade wind weather are a recipe for a blaze.

“The abnormally dry conditions, the hot temperatures, and the drying out of that vegetation the grass the timber, that has led to anything that was able to throw a spark onto the ground and the trade winds take-off and start blowing the spark around its off to the races with these fires.” Jelsema said.

Climate change could potentially be a cause of warming, although scientists are unsure. With the possibility for a future of similar conditions, Maui County Mayor Mike Victorino has plans to keep former agricultural areas as green as possible.

“I think if we can get our agricultural basin going again, which is the central basin, I think that will really lessen the opportunity for fires in these areas.” Victorino said.

Another idea would be using recycled water on the top layer of combustible areas.

“Creation of green zones which is using R1 water on the top area. We have the opportunity to reuse all of that reclaimed water and use that to make the areas more fire-resistant. ” Victorino added.

Even with the fall season usually expected to bring cooler weather, Jelsema says that higher than average temperatures could continue.

“We’ll probably stay above average through much of the fall months and into the winter just because we have this large area of warm water upstream from the islands that has anywhere from 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit above what it would typically be for this time of year.”

Mayor Victorino knows that even with prevention measures, eliminating these fires may not be possible.

“To stop fires entirely will never happen because we have areas far far away from anything. Open space reserve or conservation areas that always during dry seasons like this turn brown and become a fire kindle.”

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