Wind gusts and wooden structures created an optimal environment for wildfire destruction in Lahaina
Updated Aug. 11, 2023
A wildfire outbreak on the Hawaiian island of Maui disrupted life for thousands of people when flames damaged or destroyed homes starting on Tuesday, Aug. 8. In addition to potentially extensive property damage, the fires forced thousands of evacuations; disrupted communication systems and transportation networks, including cell service, road closures and flights; and burdened firefighting efforts.
The situation in Maui is currently ongoing. The full extent of the damage will be unknown for some time. The cause of the Maui fires is currently under investigation.
CoreLogic® estimates 3,088 residential homes with $1.3B in total reconstruction cost value within preliminary wildfire perimeters.
CoreLogic estimates approximately 3,088 single- and multifamily residential properties with a combined reconstruction value (RCV) of $1.3 billion are within three preliminary wildfire perimeters (Figure 1) on Maui (Table 1). The majority of residential properties are located within Perimeter 1 where Lahaina is located.
|Reconstruction Cost Value
Table 1: Number and total reconstruction cost value (RCV) of residential homes within preliminary wildfire perimeters on Maui
CoreLogic used satellite-derived wildfire hot spot data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to create preliminary wildfire perimeters on the island of Maui. Please note, these are not official perimeters and are subject to change.
Note, not all properties within the perimeters sustained damage. A structure that was damaged may not have sustained 100% loss up to the full reconstruction value. The number of damaged properties will be a subset of the total 3,088 homes. The RCV figures presented above represent the cost of completely rebuilding the existing structure. The RCV amount includes the costs of materials, equipment and labor, but does not include the value of the land or lot.
Extreme Gusts Likely Fueled Building-To-Building Spread
Early reports indicate extensive property damage and loss of life on the island of Maui. The greatest concentration of damage is in Lahaina (Figure 1), a town on the island’s western coast. Flames burned the Baldwin House, the oldest home on Maui, as well as many other homes and businesses. According to the County of Maui press release from Aug. 9, 271 structures were damaged or destroyed in Lahaina.
High-speed winds, extreme gusts and building construction materials are likely the biggest drivers of wildfire spread in Lahaina.
“The source and ignition of the fire are still undetermined, but once the fire moved into the more developed regions of Lahaina, it appears the fire was able to intensify and spread very quickly,” said Dr. Thomas Jeffery, CoreLogic Principal Wildfire Scientist. “The winds likely pushed embers and flames into the built environment, and then the buildings in Lahaina became the primary source of fuel for the expansion of the fire. Many of the residential properties in Lahaina appear to have wood siding, and a number of them have elevated porches with a lattice underneath. Both are characteristics that make the residence very vulnerable to either ember or direct flame ignition. The reported wind speeds and comprehensive urban damage indicate that what likely happened in Lahaina was a true urban conflagration that could have been the result of an initial grass fire.”
The 60 mph wind gusts resulted from a pressure gradient extending across Hawaii. A high-pressure ridge over the northern Pacific Ocean and the low-pressure center of Hurricane Dora, which was 500 miles south-southwest of Hawaii, created a strong pressure gradient, fueling the gusts and amplifying wildfire-spread rates.
The CoreLogic Hazard HQ Team will continue to watch the situation in Hawaii. Updates may be provided when the full extent of damage is more known.
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