Invasive grass is fueling devastating Maui wildfires

hawaii fires.jpg

Photo via Hawaii News Now / Richard Olsten

The wildfires ravaging the island of Maui right now are some of the most destructive Hawaiian fires of modern times, according to USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey.

The images of flames, as seen from the air, are astounding. While we do not yet know the extent of the damage to agriculture, the fires destroyed the historic community of Lahaina and led to dozens of fatalities.

“Nobody really saw this Hawaiian situation coming,” said Rippey. “I think in retrospect you can kind of go back and figure out some of the causes of all this.” He said contributors include lingering chronic drought conditions, winds from category 4 hurricane Dora in the South Pacific, and invasive grasses growing after a wet season, which fuel the flames.

Agriculture is the second-largest industry in Maui. Coffee, cacao, and sugarcane are all grown on the island, and so are tropical fruits like pineapples, coconuts and dragon fruit. Lahaina is home to some farms open to visitor tours, so there will almost certainly be damage to agriculture.

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