Maui County cited increased wildfire risks in its lawsuit against fossil fuel companies, but while many are criticizing the lack of preparedness, others, in Hawaiʻi and elsewhere, are focusing on what the fires destroyed, and what comes next for survivors. Maui’s 2020 lawsuit (still ongoing) accused major oil and gas companies of engaging in a “coordinated, multifront effort to conceal and deny their own knowledge” of the damage of their products, among which was the “increased frequency, intensity, and destructive force” of wildfires supercharged by climate change.
In addition to the at least 110 people killed directly by the Maui fires, and much like the rest of Lāhainā, the Na ‘Aikane o Maui Cultural and Research Center burned down. Lost were “old documents. Maps. Genealogy. Books that were actually signed by our kings,” Ke’eamoku Kapu, the center’s steward, told NPR. In addition to the destroyed artifacts, Kapu also worries about the dispossession and dislocation of Native Hawaiians in the wake of the Maui fires.
“There’s a lot of distrust right now,” Kapu said. “What is it going to take to rebuild the capital of the kingdom once again? What is it going to take? This is our legacy we’re talking about. What is the payout for losing that?”
Of particular concern in the already-housing-scarce region is “climate gentrification” exacerbating the affordable housing crisis. The aftermath of the Maui fires is is one of the “scariest opportunities for gentrification” Jennifer Gray Thompson, head of After the Fire USA, has ever seen, she told the AP, because of “the very high land values and the intense level of trauma and the people who are unscrupulous who will come in to try to take advantage of that.”
The Maui fires caused about $3.2 billion in insured losses and more than $5.5 billion total, according to Karen Clark & Co. and federal estimates, respectively.
In Maui and elsewhere, the long-term effects of the physical, cognitive, and emotional trauma of wildfires — a form of PTSD survivors call “fire brain” — are coming into greater focus. “People see the environment as a refuge, a positive healing thing. … When something you see as positive turns against you, that’s a difficult thing for many people to deal with,” Dhakshin Ramanathan, associate professor in residence in psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego, told the Washington Post. “Climate will be a sustained stress that will be harder to treat.”
(Lawsuit: New York Times $; Preparation criticism: The Hill, New York Times $, Grist, The Atlantic; Climate gentrification: AP; Local aftermath: NPR, Washington Post $; New York Times $, Bloomberg $; Financial costs: Bloomberg $; Post-wildfire trauma: Washington Post $, LA Times $, Reuters, NPR, NPR; Climate Signals background: Wildfires)