UNITED STATES NEWS

Fast-moving Hawaii fires will take a heavy toll on the state’s environment

Aug 10, 2023, 9:33 PM | Updated: Aug 11, 2023, 5:08 am

The fast-moving wildfires that raked Maui this week took a heavy toll on humans and property, killing dozens of people and devastating the historic town of Lahaina. But their effects on the landscape and environment in Hawaii are also expected to be significant.

Experts say the fires are likely to transform the landscape in unwanted ways including hastening erosion, sending sediment into waterways and degrading coral that is critically important to the islands, marine life and the humans who live nearby.

A look at some of those potential impacts:

CORAL

The wildfires struck Hawaii just as Jamison Gove, a Honolulu-based oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was publishing research in Nature on Hawaii coral reefs’ recovering from a 2015 marine heat wave. That work highlighted the threat to coral from land-based contaminants running off into the ocean.

Gove said Thursday that burning homes, commercial structures and cars and trucks would make any runoff worse by concentrating synthetic materials in the stream.

“It’s not a major leap to suggest when all that material is even more heavily concentrated in a small area, that the consequences would undoubtedly be more severe if and when it’s in the ocean,” Gove said. He noted that Lahaina’s coastal location meant “a minimal distance” for the materials to reach the ocean.

“Coral reefs provide coastal protection, they provide fisheries, they support cultural practices in Hawaii,” Gove said. “And the loss of reefs just has such detrimental consequences to the ecosystem.”

DRINKING WATER

One casualty of the fire could be clean drinking water.

Andrew Whelton, a professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University, said the wildfires can contaminate private wells and water systems and even municipal water systems.

The private wells, which can be shallow and sometimes have little more protection than a board or well house, are easily overcome by fire and contaminated, Whelton said.

Municipal systems also can be affected when fire damages distribution systems. Whelton described a scenario in which pressure drops could lead to contaminated water backing up, sucking in smoke, soot, ash and vapors that penetrate plastics, gaskets and other materials to create a future problem.

“They leach out slowly into the clean water you’ve just put in, making that clean water unsafe,” Whelton said.

LANDSCAPE AND SOIL CHANGES

Elizabeth Pickett, co-executive director of the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, a nonprofit working with communities to prevent and mitigate fires, lamented the changes wrought by fire.

Invasive and fire-prone grass species have moved in over time and during a fire they can burn into native forests, which means the forests are replaced by more grass, Pickett said. The soil burns and sloughs off, leading to massive post-fire erosion that smothers coral, impacts fisheries and reduces the quality of the ocean water, she said.

The state is windy and the dust blows for years, harming human health, she added.

“When you lose your soil, it’s really hard to restore and replant. And then the only thing that can really handle living there in many cases are more of those invasive species,” Pickett said. “It’s systemic. Air, land and water are all impacted.”

Paul Steblein, the wildland fire science coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey, said there are a number of fire-adapted invasive species. If that is what grows back following a wildfire, then fires can become more common.

Those invasive grasses are also growing faster during the periods that are wetter due to climate change and become easy to burn when it dries out, Steblein said.

___

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

United States News

Associated Press

UN adopts a resolution demanding that Sudan’s paramilitary force halt its siege of a Darfur city

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution Thursday demanding that Sudan’s paramilitary force halt its siege of the only capital in the vast western region of Darfur that it doesn’t control where more than a million people are reportedly trapped. The resolution, which was approved by a vote of 14-0 with […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Sen. John Fetterman was at fault in car accident and seen going ‘high rate of speed,’ police say

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman was seen driving at a “high rate of speed” on Sunday morning just before he rear-ended another car on Interstate 70 in Maryland, according to a state police report. The police report said Fetterman was at fault in the crash. Both cars were towed and Fetterman, his […]

2 hours ago

Split panel image with Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke seen in a screenshot providin...

Kevin Stone

DOJ investigation of Phoenix Police Department finds civil rights violations, dysfunction

A yearslong U.S. Department of Justice investigation of the Phoenix Police Department found patterns of egregious civil rights violations, officials announced Thursday.

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Southern Poverty Law Center lays off employees amid restructuring

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal and advocacy group, is laying off more than 60 employees, the union representing workers said Thursday. The Southern Poverty Law Center did not confirm the number but issued a statement saying the organization “is undergoing an organizational restructuring” that resulted in staff reductions. The […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Murder suspect killed, 2 police officers wounded in shootout at New Jersey hotel

A shootout at a New Jersey hotel ended with a murder suspect dead and two police officers wounded, authorities said. The shooting occurred late Wednesday at a complex in Woodbridge that houses the Raritan Hotel and the Royal Albert’s Palace Banquet Hall, the state Attorney General’s Office said. The suspect, whose name was not released, […]

3 hours ago

Follow @ktar923...

Sponsored Content by Collins Comfort Masters

Here's how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.

Sponsored Articles

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

Fast-moving Hawaii fires will take a heavy toll on the state’s environment