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An island ablaze: Wildfires tear through town of Lahaina

By Mahika Khosla and Jaein Park Sept. 28, 2023

Houses, stores and historic landmarks burned into oblivion, turning one of the most peaceful destinations in America into an apocalyptic scene in the blink of an eye. The wildfires on the island of Maui, which mainly occurred in the historic city of Lahaina, have destroyed more than 2,000 structures, caused up to $6 billion in property damage and displaced 4500 people. Additionally, the fires have led to the disappearance of 388 people and the death of 97.

Dana Lim Art

Public outrage against Hawaii Electric, the electric company that serves Lahaina, is storming in response to mounting evidence that their failure to shut off the power even as wind gusts from Hurricane Dora became increasingly dangerous caused the fires: The wind is believed to have toppled power lines, sending sparks into the drought-stricken vegetation. Hawaii Electric is currently facing 9 lawsuits, including one filed by Maui County.

Many locals have expressed frustration that the government’s response to the fires has been very slow, inadequate and uncoordinated. Compared to how the Californian government responded to the 2021 wildfires in the state, spending millions of dollars to provide food, water and shelter to victims, the support that the Hawaiian government gave during the fires is considered very poor—for example, some report that medical aid has not been readily available.

“I read that the citizens seeking refuge in hotels don’t get enough water and electricity. The government should be more active in supplying the people of Lahaina with internet and electricity, water, shelter, food and money until they can get back on their feet,” Freshman Yashika Agarwal said.

However, countless civilians have taken initiative to provide relief in Maui, alleviating the impacts of the government’s delayed response. The American Red Cross and Maui Strong are two humanitarian organizations leading recovery efforts in Maui, and such initiatives have raised more than $43 million in donations from people in over 44 countries.

Dana Lim Art

Amidst the chaos caused by the wildfires, tourists continued traveling to the island of Maui, which has irritated victims. While Maui residents who lost their loved ones, homes and even jobs during the wildfires struggled to get back on their feet, receiving insufficient aid from the government, travelers enjoyed their trips in luxury and often received preferential treatment—because tourism is the center of Maui’s economy, the government gives heavy priority to the well-being of tourists, even during difficult times. As a result of protests and criticism from victims, however, the Hawaiian government eventually asked visitors to leave Maui as soon as possible.

“Tourism in Maui should not be outright restricted, but it should be limited to the areas where the fire had the least impact at this time. This way, Maui can continue to earn income from tourism while still allowing victims of the fires to peacefully recover,” Junior Olivia Liu said.

Global warming is driving Maui’s growing vulnerability to wildfires, creating the perfect climate and dry conditions for an inferno to ignite. Thus, the recent events in Lahaina, similar to many other recent natural disasters, have drawn increased attention to climate change.

In Montana earlier this year, three youth plaintiffs led a lawsuit arguing that the state was violating its citizens’ right to a “clean and healthful environment” that is guaranteed by the state constitution by aggressively developing fossil fuels. The result of the lawsuit was a 103-page court order affirming the plaintffs’ claim. The success of the Montana climate lawsuit can serve as an example for other individuals working to get fossil fuels deemed unconstitutional as a step forward in the fight to combat climate change and prevent future disasters like the devastating Lahaina fires.


About the Contributors

Mahika Khosla

staff writer

Mahika Khosla is a sophomore at Leland High School and is a writer for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys reading novels, watching movies with popcorn, and creating board games.

Jaein Park

staff writer

Jaein Park is a freshman at Leland High School and is a new staff writer for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys listening to NewJeans' music, hanging out with her friends, and studying and learning something.

Dana Lim


Dana Lim is a junior at Leland High School and is an artist for The Charger Account. During her free time, she loves watching movies, listening to music, and taking five hour naps.

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