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What conditions led to the rapid spread of the Maui wildfires?

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — It has been one week since the first wildfires engulfed Maui. Scenes from the island have been devastating. Although the initial cause of the wildfires is unknown, the weather certainly aided in the spread of the fires. Conditions in place that day were primed for the spreading of any fires that started.

Weather set-up

On Aug. 8, a major hurricane was passing to the south of the Hawaiian islands. Hurricane Dora posed no threat to land. However, with high pressure sitting to the north, a strong pressure gradient was created allowing for a zone of high winds through Hawaii. Humidity also was generally low across the islands during this day.

Peak wind gusts from Aug. 7 to Aug. 9 were released by the National Weather Service in Honolulu. Here are a few reports from Maui County illustrating the gusty winds in place last week.

Flash drought

The other huge factor was the onset of drought in the last few months on the Hawaiian islands. In May, Maui was not even in the “abnormally dry” category. Fast forward to the current drought situation which is in the “moderate” and “severe” categories for Maui. This dry soil combined with the strong easterly winds was a recipe for disaster with any fire that got started.

On Monday, Aug. 7, Indiana Task Force 1 sent members to assist in the search operations on the island. Unfortunately, the death toll is expected to climb over the next couple of days as search crews go through neighborhoods.

This disaster will easily be added to the billion-dollar disaster list for the United States which is kept track of by NOAA the entire year. Through the end of July 2023, NOAA recorded 15 weather/climate billion-dollar disasters in the United States

For more information on the Maui wildfires, be sure to tune into WISH-TV and follow the latest developments on