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KCC pegs killer Maui fire losses at about $3.2bn

Burnt areas in Lahaina on the Maui island, Hawaii, are seen following a wildfire that last week killed at least 99 people (Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources/AP)

Catastrophe risk modeller Karen Clark & Company has reported an estimate for the insured property losses from the devastating Lahaina, Maui, fires at $3.2 billion.

KCC made the estimate using the high-resolution KCC US Wildfire Reference Model for a catastrophe that has left Hawaii reeling and some 100 people confirmed dead, 1,000 unaccounted for and 6,000 homeless.

The devastating wildfire on August 8 started near the historic town of Lahaina and quickly spread due to high winds caused by a strong pressure gradient between a high pressure system to the north and Hurricane Dora passing to the south.

Authorities on the ground dealing with the event have reported that the fire was 85 per cent contained as of late Monday night.

More than 2,200 structures were damaged or destroyed in Lahaina in the most destructive wildfire in Hawaii history.

There have been two wildfires in the past 20 years that started within ten miles of the Lahaina fire: the Olowalu fire in 2007 burnt 2,500 acres and the Ma’Alaea fire in 2016 burnt 6,000 acres.

KCC said by way of a technical summary that low humidity and drought in Maui primed the environment for the fast-spreading fire. Parts of Maui had been under moderate to severe drought ahead of the fire and humidity was unusually low (11 per cent) at the time of the event.

The KCC report said: “Maui has had below average precipitation through the spring and summer, which contributed to the drought conditions.

“Hawaii had also had a very wet season prior to the drought, which increased vegetation and created additional fuel, primarily non-native, fire-prone grasses and brush.

“Hurricane Dora passing far to the south and a high pressure system to the north created a strong pressure gradient, which contributed to the high winds that helped to quickly spread the fire. Wind gusts as high as 67mph were recorded on the island of Maui during the event.

“High winds also interacted with Maui terrain to produce strong downslope winds.

“In addition to the fire that devastated Lahaina, several other fires broke out on the island of Maui on August 8, including the Upcountry/Kula fire and Pulehu/Kihei fire.

“These two fires produced minimal insured losses as they occurred in more rural areas. The exact cause of each fire remains under investigation.

“In Hawaii, the dry season is becoming hotter and drier due to climate change, which leaves the state more vulnerable to brush fires and wildfires.

“The Lahaina fire burnt approximately 2,170 acres and devastated the town of Lahaina in Maui.

“Through an independent geospatial analysis of satellite and aerial imagery, KCC estimates that more than 2,200 structures fall within the fire perimeter, and over 3,000 total structures were impacted by the fire, including secondary impacts such as branding and smoke.

“The majority of damaged structures were residential buildings, though many commercial buildings were damaged as well.

“The high proportion of wood frame and older construction present in the Lahaina building inventory likely contributed to the high damageability rates observed in the fire.”

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Published August 16, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated August 16, 2023 at 8:00 am)

KCC pegs killer Maui fire losses at about $3.2bn

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