Why was the Maui wildfire so devastating? Scientists have new insights thanks to computer models of the blaze

Four months ago, a series of wildfires devastated the Hawaiian island of Maui, killing at least 100 people and destroying an estimated 3,000 homes and apartments.

Now, the San Francisco Chronicle reports the National Weather Service (NWS) could have issued more accurate warnings for high winds that fanned the flames, according to experts who studied computer models of the August blaze.

While meteorologists initially reported that high winds from Hurricane Dora drove the flames, new computer models show that a downslope windstorm caused by accelerating trade winds may have caused the fire to spiral out of control, the Chronicle reports. Downslope windstorms have also caused some of California’s most devastating fires.

Steven Businger, chair of the department of atmospheric sciences at the University of Hawaii, told the Chronicle the NWS in Hawai’i could have warned residents about specific locations of concern leading up to the windstorm. That information was available at the time thanks to weather models, according to the Chronicle.

The Chronicle reports the NWS instead issued a broad warning for the entire island.

“We have to learn how to use [meteorology], with the context of knowing about the fuels and the urban risk, to warn people,” Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, told the Chronicle.

“It’s completely preventable,” Mr Mass continued.

The Independent reached out to the NWS for comment.

The Maui wildfires marked the deadliest US blaze in more than 100 years — and ever since, scientists have been trying to piece together what caused the disaster. One component was the windstorm hitting the islands in early August, bringing the high gusts Mr Businger said the NWS should have issued more precise warnings about.

Another factor may have been overgrown gully experts that was not properly managed by the Hawaiian Electric Company, the Associated Press reported in September. The company is facing several lawsuits that claim they acted negligently leading up to the fires, such as by failing to initially cut electricity amid high-wind warnings and failing to clear growth near power lines.

The company has admitted that downed power lines caused the initial blaze but denied responsibility for the flare-ups that devastated the island. Regarding the overgrown gully, the company told the AP they are allowed to “remove anything that interferes with our lines and could potentially cause an outage” but they cannot “go on to private property to perform landscaping or grass-mowing.”