How Climate Change and Colonization Shaped the Maui Fires

While global warming impacted the Maui Fires, the effects of colonization also played a key role in the devastation.

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On August 8, intense winds from nearby Hurricane Dora led to around 30 downed utility poles causing outages for over 12,400 customers. These winds and downed power lines contributed to fires in various parts of Maui. In Kula, a fire scorched about 1,000 acres, threatening 544 structures and burning 16, with evidence suggesting a fallen power line as the ignition source. Meanwhile, Lāhainā experienced its most devastating fire on August 8 due to a downed power line. This fire led to widespread evacuations, gridlock, and desperate escape attempts, including people diving into the ocean. As of August 15, 106 deaths were confirmed in Lāhainā, with search operations still underway. This fire consumed 2,170 acres and destroyed over 2,200 buildings, resulting in damages estimated near $6 billion. The Lāhainā fire’s death toll became the highest for a U.S. wildfire since 1918. In the immediate aftermath of the fires, many began discussing the connections between these fires, climate change, and colonization. But what are these connections, and why are they important? Ethan explores how climate change worsened the fires, how colonization worsened both climate change and the fires, and what lessons we can learn going forward in this week’s “Tip of the Iceberg.”

The Sweaty Penguin is presented by Peril and Promise: a public media initiative from The WNET Group in New York, reporting on the issues and solutions around climate change. You can learn more at

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Writers: Ethan Brown, Velina Georgi, Mo Polyak, Emma Quarequio

Fact Checker: Dare Fitzpatrick

Editor: Ethan Brown

Producers: Ethan Brown, Hallie Cordingley, Shannon Damiano, Owen Reith

Ad Voiceover: Velina Georgi

Music: Brett Sawka

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The Sweaty Penguin
The Sweaty Penguin is a digital news source and podcast aiming to make environmental issues less overwhelming and politicized and more accessible and fun.


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