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Monday, August 14, 2023
August 14, 2023 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 6:20 PM :: 2815 Views

Maui Crisis: A Time to Help

Housing task force created for Maui victims as death toll climbs

Warning Not Heeded: 2018 Hurricane Lane Almost Torched Lahaina

SA: … The fuel, in the form of hundreds of acres of dry brush at the height of Hawaii’s hot summer, paired with ramped-up winds as Hurricane Dora passed south of the isles resulted in a deadly combination. Once ignited, Maui’s fires spread swiftly.

While some say these fires came as a surprise, scientists have warned of these potential risks.

In a study following Hurricane Lane in 2018, scientists from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and East-West Center noted that despite never making landfall, the storm resulted not only in severe flooding, but multiple fires on the islands of Maui and Oahu.

“There are so many similarities between this event and that one,” said Alison Nugent, an associate professor in atmospheric sciences at UH-Manoa. “Mainly, I think the thing that’s not surprising to me at all was the fact that both times, fires occurred on the leeward sides of the islands.”

During Lane, three wildfires broke out on Maui, including one near Lahaina, and one by the Kahe Point power plant on Oahu.

Hurricane Lane, they said, was a textbook example of compounding hazards that can be produced by a single storm.

While heavy rain is a familiar feature of tropical storms, subsiding air around the storm’s periphery is warm and dry — and combined with intense winds — increases the fire hazard. Lane brought winds to dry lands.

More importantly, the fires ignited in land dominated by nonnative grasses that replaced what used to be pineapple plantations and sugar cane fields, according to Nugent, one of six authors of “Fire and Rain: The Legacy of Hurricane Lane in Hawaii,” published in 2020. …

LAT: In devastation of Maui fire, California's past horrors lurk - Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)

read … High winds, invasive grasses fueled Hawaii fires during past hurricanes | Honolulu Star-Advertiser (staradvertiser.com)

Hawaiian Electric Company’s Wildfire Strategy--Too Little Too Late

IM: … The Hawaiian Electric Companies (HECO) filed a request with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on September 30, 2019, for Phase 2 of their Grid Modernization Project. The only other entity in the open and ongoing proceeding is the Consumer Advocate.

HECO filed a request with the PUC on June 30, 2022, to spend $190,000,000 to harden the grid. The other entities in the open and ongoing proceeding are the Consumer Advocate, Ulupono Initiative, and Life of the Land.

The Grid Hardening Application stated:

“Since 2015, Governor Ige issued at least 15 weather-related emergency proclamations for events including, hurricanes, tropical storms, flooding, landslides, wildfire, and lava eruptions, among others.”

“The Wildfire Prevention & Mitigation initiative includes targeted system hardening and situational awareness investments in wildfire risk areas to prevent wildfire ignition and enable quicker response to any ignitions that do occur. The risk of a utility system causing a wildfire ignition is significant. For example, the PG&E ignition of the Camp Fire resulted in a $15 billion settlement. As such, wildfire ignition mitigation has become a regulatory requirement in California and in Australia.”

“Considering the devastating California wildfires of 2018 and the Companies own experiences in 2019, the Companies have taken proactive action to address wildfire risks. To this end, the Companies reviewed the San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and Pacific Gas & Electric mandated wildfire mitigation plans to identify best practices that would be appropriate for Hawaii’s environment and weather conditions. In addition, the Companies performed assessments of potential wildfire areas on O‘ahu, Maui, Lana‘i, Moloka‘i, and Hawai‘i Island.”

“The Companies Wildfire Prevention & Mitigation initiative has the following objectives: 1. Minimize the probability of the Companies facilities becoming the origin or contributing source of ignition for a wildfire. 2. Prevent the Companies facilities from contributing to the severity or breadth of wildfires. 3. Identify and implement operational procedures to ensure the Companies can respond effectively to a wildfire without compromising customer and employee safety, while remaining sensitive to customers need for reliable electricity.”

… “In Maui County, the current wildfire priority areas include: West Maui (Lahaina to Kapalua), Ma‘alaea, Olowalu, Moloka‘i (from west Moloka‘i to Kawela), and Lana‘i. The total estimated program cost for Maui County is $6,243,000.”…

Life of the Land filed an information request:

“San Diego Gas and Electric, has developed a system intended to cut off power to a falling power line before it hits the ground, therefore avoiding a possible ignition. SDG&E's research found that it takes 1.37 seconds for a broken conductor to hit the ground, for example, if a tree falls into the line or a vehicle hits a power pole. When the line contacts the ground sparks can ignite vegetation. The system is designed to detect a break and shut off the power before the clock hits 1.37 seconds -hopefully, avoiding what could become a dangerous wildfire.

“Could HECO decrease the likelihood of igniting a wildfire by adopting similar technology?”

HECO Responded on November 14, 2022.

“Hawaiian Electric is currently deploying `smart fuses` that, when activated during wildfire conditions (e.g., red flag warnings), will cut off power less than one cycle (approximately 0.0167 seconds) after a fault is detected. Thus, the intensity of sparks created from the fault is significantly reduced. These devices are being installed on circuits in areas that are identified as high risk for wildfires.”

“The SDG&E `broken conductor` detection system is a demonstration of an emerging technology application. These types of systems typically require extensive installation of high-resolution Phasor Measurement Units (PMUs) and fast, secure, and reliable communication to each PMU on the circuit. 

"At this time, it is unclear how much more mitigation benefit a broken conductor detection system, like the SDG&E system, would provide beyond what is currently being done in our wildfire risk areas. However, Hawaiian Electric will continue to monitor new technologies that could potentially compliment the current `smart fuses` and minimize the likelihood of igniting a wildfire.” ….

B: Hawaiian Electric’s stock plunges 34% on fears of wildfire liability

B: Maui Wildfire: Why Hawaii’s Power Lines Are Suspect - Bloomberg

HF: Communities at Risk from Wildfires - State of Hawaii Map — Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization

read … Hawaiian Electric Company`s Wildfire Strategy | Ililani Media

As inferno grew, Lahaina’s water system collapsed

NYT: … During the frantic moments Tuesday after a wildfire jumped containment near a residential neighborhood in Lahaina, firefighters rushing to slow the spread were distressed to find that their hydrants were starting to run dry.

Hoping to control the blaze as it took root among homes along the hillside nearly a mile above the center of town, fire crews encountered water pressure that was increasingly feeble, with the wind turning the streams into mist. Then, as the inferno stoked by powerful gusts grew, roaring further toward the historic center of town, the hydrants sputtered and became largely useless.

“There was just no water in the hydrants,” said Keahi Ho, one of the firefighters who was on duty in Lahaina….

On the day the fire tore through Lahaina, the fight was complicated by winds in excess of 70 mph, stoked by a hurricane offshore. Not only did the wind fuel the blaze, it made it impossible during much of the day to launch helicopters that could have carried in and dropped water from the ocean.

Early that day, as winds knocked out power to thousands of people, county officials urged people to conserve water, saying that “power outages are impacting the ability to pump water.”

John Stufflebean, the county’s director of water supply, said backup generators allowed the system to maintain sufficient overall supply throughout the fire. But he said that as the fire began moving down the hillside, turning homes into rubble, many properties were damaged so badly that water was spewing out of their melting pipes, depressurizing the network that also supplies the hydrants….

read … As inferno grew, Lahaina’s water system collapsed

'Tapped Out' Maui Firefighters Were Trying To Cover A Lot Of Ground The Day Lahaina Burned

CB: … A blaze earlier that day had been declared contained just before 9 a.m. But fire reignited in the area a few hours later. The fire burned uncontrolled for hours until it had destroyed virtually the entire town, raising concerns that firefighters may not have been present in sufficient numbers or were otherwise outmatched by the blaze.

Exactly when firefighters responded, and how many arrived, has not been shared with the public. Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, estimated around 20 firefighters were in Lahaina sometime after 3 p.m. but found themselves unable to stop it. Two fire engines were scorched in the process, he said….

The Lahaina blaze was the third major incident firefighters were tackling on the island that day. Many firefighters were likely tied up with the other two fires located about an hour’s drive across the island in Upcountry and South Maui, Lee said. Helicopters weren’t an option due to winds blowing at 70 miles per hour, he said.

Generally, when a major fire incident occurs, it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation, and it’s not standard practice for firefighters to hang back in anticipation of another fire popping up elsewhere, according to Lee.

“We use whatever we have,” Lee said. “We don’t keep reserves on hand and not send them to an incident.”…

read … 'Tapped Out' Maui Firefighters Were Trying To Cover A Lot Of Ground The Day Lahaina Burned - Honolulu Civil Beat

Maui wildfire death toll increases by three to 96--many more to come

SA: … Maui Police Department said the number of confirmed fatalities from Tuesday’s massive wildfire that destroyed Lahaina has risen by three to 96.

The Lahaina disaster is the worst U.S. wildfire in over a century.

In addition to the high death toll, the firestorm has damaged or destroyed over 2,000 homes and left thousands of Maui residents homeless. There are also hundreds of people who are still unaccounted for five days after the Tuesday fire.

Gov. Josh Green and Maui County officials have repeatedly warned that they expect the toll to keep climbing as crews searching the rubble of thousands of Lahaina homes and businesses continue their grim work over the next week….

SA: “They will find 10 to 20 people per day, probably, until they finish. And it’s probably going to take 10 days. It’s impossible to guess, really.”-- Gov Green

SA: Maui families provide DNA to help ID remains of fire victims

read … Maui wildfire death toll increases by three to 96

Hawaii Tourism Authority: Visitors have ‘largely heeded call’ to leave Maui

HNN: … Since Wednesday, more than 46,000 people have flown out of Kahului Airport….

The agency added hotels in West Maui have temporarily stopped accepting bookings

And the governor has said about 1,000 rooms in the area have been secured for evacuees and first responders. It was not immediately clear when evacuees would be moving in….

BH: Baffling Maui Travel Advice Just Released By State of Hawaii - Beat of Hawaii

UKDM: EXCLUSIVE: Paris Hilton spotted enjoying the sun with family on Hawaii beach just 30 miles from deadly Laharia fire - even after Jason Momoa told tourists to stay away | Daily Mail Online

KITV: Tourism for West Maui discouraged, but other portions of Maui are open for tourists | News | kitv.com 

read … Hawaii Tourism Authority: Visitors have ‘largely heeded call’ to leave Maui 

Billions in losses projected to hit Hawaii’s economy hard

SA: … The statewide economic impact of wildfires on Hawaii island and Maui — where the destruction in Lahaina has become the nation’s deadliest single wildfire in recent history — is likely to hit at least $8 billion to $10 billion in the Hawaiian Islands.

That preliminary estimate from AccuWeather, a source of global weather forecasts and warnings headquartered in State College, Pa., mostly takes into account Maui, where the loss of life and property have been staggering. Maui, which depends on tourism more than any other Hawaiian island, also has had the most direct economic hit.

Still, Jake Sojda, AccuWeather senior meteorologist, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday that “this is a Hawaii estimate because there is ripple impact across the islands.”

Sojda stressed that AccuWeather’s estimate was preliminary and could grow as information such as the death count and property losses are updated, and aspects of human behavior become clearer, such as will people stay and build or leave.

Sojda said AccuWeather tries not to assume population changes, which gets into forecasting people’s minds, but recognizes that it does happen and “could certainly build into that impact.”

To put this wildfire event into context, AccuWeather’s estimate is approaching all of the tourism spending statewide, some $10.78 billion that was collected during the first six months of this year. The estimate also is more than 50% of the roughly $19.29 billion in visitor spending that was collected last year.

Sojda said the estimate takes into account the importance of tourism in Hawaii. He said that especially applies to Maui, where he said the GDP in 2021 was $10.3 billion, with tourism accounting for about 75% of the revenue.

“The tourism piece makes this more economically impactful,” Sojda said. “Especially since it’s such a large percentage of the GDP. I don’t know if you would find another place in the U.S. with that percentage.” ….

ACCU: Catastrophic wildfires in Maui: AccuWeather estimates damage, economic loss of $8 to $10 billion 

read … Billions in losses projected to hit Hawaii’s economy hard

Maui Faces Millions In Lost Revenue From Property That May No Longer Exist

CB: … Property tax payments are due on Aug. 21 but county officials haven't said what their plan is for residents and businesses whose property is gone….

County officials have not said whether they will forgo tax revenue on properties that no longer exist. But one county council member indicated it will be hard to make people pay taxes on properties that have been destroyed.

Tax experts say the blow to Maui’s coffers will be significant and long lasting.

Kalbert Young, former director of budget and finance for the state, said he “would not be shocked” if it’s in the $40 million to $50 million range of lost annual property tax revenue. “I would fear it could be worse, to tell you the truth.”

(IDEA: Reset assessment for burned properties at land value only.)

read … Maui Faces Millions In Lost Revenue From Property That May No Longer Exist

A quick look at Lahaina’s population

ILind: … Lahaina had more young people under 5 years old (8.1%) vs. Maui County as a whole (5.3).

The same with those under age 18 (Lahaina 25.6%) vs Maui County (20.9%).

But Lahaina had fewer residents over age 65 (15.3%) vs Maui County (20.7%).

Fewer Lahaina residents owned their own homes (49.7%) vs. Maui County (63.9%) or the state (61%).

Lahaina had significantly more residents who were foreign born (31.7%) vs Maui County (17.8%), or Hawaii as a whole (18.2%).

Reflecting that, more Lahaina residents reported speaking a language other than English at home: Lahaina (36%), Maui County (22.0%), State of Hawaii (25.9%).

The rate of higher education was lower, with 24% of Lahaina residents 25 or older holding a BA or higher degree vs. Maui County (30%), and the State of Hawaii (34.3%).

Lahaina had more residents working (counted in the civilian labor force) (73.8%), more than the comparable figures for Maui County (65.4%) or the state (61.1%).

And women in Lahaina were more likely to be working (69.1% of women were in the labor force), vs 64% for Maui County and 59.7% for the state as a whole….

read … A quick look at Lahaina’s population

Waimea man challenges county’s liability waiver in firearm-carry application

HTH: … A Waimea man is suing Hawaii County in federal court, saying its requirement he sign a waiver of liability for a background check as part of the concealed-carry firearms permit application violates his constitutional right to privacy.

Attorneys Richard Holcomb of Honolulu and Alan Beck of San Diego filed the suit on behalf of James Grell on Aug. 4 in U.S. District Court in Honolulu….

Grell, a 51-year-old accountant, twice submitted an application to the Hawaii Police Department, on April 17 and May 5, for a permit to carry a Sig Sauer P365 9 mm semi-automatic pistol. The application included a form signed by a National Rifle Association certified firearm instructor saying Grell passed a firearms proficiency test with the handgun on March 5.

The application also was submitted twice with a cover letter explaining Grell didn’t agree to the waiver form, so he didn’t sign it or have it notarized.

Twice, the police department declined to process Grell’s application, citing in a certified letter Grell’s refusal to complete and notarize that waiver of liability as its reason….

read … Waimea man challenges county’s liability waiver in firearm-carry application - Hawaii Tribune-Herald

TRO against release of mosquitoes has yet to impact plans for Big Isle

HTH: … An ongoing legal battle over a plan to import mosquitoes to Maui to protect endangered birds has not immediately affected a similar plan for the Big Island.

In 2021, the state departments of Agriculture and Land and Natural Resources joined several other agencies — including the National Park Service, the American Bird Conservancy and more — to form “Birds, Not Mosquitoes,” an initiative to eventually import and release into the wild specially treated mosquitoes in an effort to stem the spread of avian malaria, which has devastated native bird populations.

The plan follows an approach called the Incompatible Insect Technique, whereby mosquitoes are infected with a specific strain of a bacterium called Wolbachia. Mosquitoes infected with one strain of Wolbachia become incapable of reproducing except with another host of the same strain.

By releasing a population of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes into local mosquito populations, the two groups will attempt to reproduce but be unable to lay viable eggs before the ends of their brief lifespans, reducing the number of mosquitoes in the state. Because the imported mosquitoes are all males, the risk that they would become additional vectors for avian malaria is nonexistent — female mosquitoes are the only ones who feed on blood.

The DLNR plans to release these Wolbachia-treated mosquitoes in forests on Hawaii Island, Maui and Kauai, with environmental assessments for the projects on the latter two islands published earlier this year.

But in June, Maui nonprofit Hawaii United filed a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the DLNR and its board to stop the release of the mosquitoes in East Maui.

“We don’t believe this was properly handled,” Hawaii United founder Tina Lia said Tuesday, explaining that the suit is asking the state’s First Circuit Court to require an environmental impact statement for the Maui project.

An initial hearing in First Circuit Court took place in July, with further hearings to follow later this month….

read … TRO against release of mosquitoes has yet to impact plans for Big Isle - Hawaii Tribune-Herald

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