Hawaii is grappling with catastrophic loss as the death toll from last week’s raging wildfires rose to 106 on Wednesday, with the possibility of the figure tripling, as search efforts have only covered 32 percent of the scorched areas.
Only four of the bodies recovered from the catastrophic fires have so far been identified, and the Hawaiian authorities have said that more than 1,300 people remain unaccounted for. Relatives of the missing are waiting to provide DNA samples for testing.
The governor of Hawaii, Josh Green, has warned that the search is likely to take ten days, and that they expect to find 10 to 20 bodies each day. According to the governor, most of the bodies recovered have been found along the coastline or in the ocean, where people have sought refuge from the flames.
Thousands of Hawaiians have been displaced by the wildfires that ravaged the historic town of Lahaina on Maui on 8 August. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the fires in Hawaii have earned the distinction of being the deadliest fires in the United States this century. The recovery process for the islands will be a long one.
While the exact cause of the Hawaiian fires remains unclear, wildfire experts and scientists say contributing factors include the spread of flammable non-native grasses on abandoned farmland and poor vegetation management. Changing climate conditions may also be contributing to stronger hurricanes and increased drought in Hawaii.
Climate scientist Prof Dr Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University took to social media to highlight the link between the fires and the climate crisis. She explained that while climate change may not directly cause the fires, it intensifies them, turning relatively small incidents into conflagrations. She used the analogy of throwing a match into wet wood versus dry kindling to explain the role of climate change in intensifying fires.
Prof Hayhoe also highlighted how the climate crisis is increasing the severity of other natural disasters, such as hurricanes and heat waves. She stressed the need for governments to take decisive action to address climate change as the severity and frequency of these disasters increase.