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The perfect storm of weather conditions that led to the devastating wildfires in Maui

NOAA

(NEW YORK) — A perfect storm of weather conditions led to the massive inferno that has killed dozens of people in Maui and caused widespread destruction on an island best known as paradise.


The fires, which sparked Tuesday night, were fueled by an unfortunate combination of a landscape parched by drought conditions and strong winds.

As Hurricane Dora passed through the Pacific Ocean about 750 miles south of the Hawaiian islands, the storm system collided with a tight pressure gradient sitting north of the islands, creating strong trade winds up to 60 mph that allowed the fire to spread quickly overnight once it was ignited.

In addition, parts of Maui, including much of the the island’s west coast, are currently under severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The fires seemed to ignite out of nowhere, Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke told reporters in a news conference on Wednesday.

“We never anticipated in this state that a hurricane, which did not make impact on our islands, would cause this type of wildfires,” Luke said. “Wildfires that wiped out communities. Wildfires that wiped out businesses. Wildfires that destroyed homes.”

The devastation has been widespread on the island, with before-and-after satellite images showing miles of scorched earth and infrastructure. On the west coast of the island, much of the historic town of Lahaina has been devastated.

While the winds died down to about 30 mph on Thursday, they still posed some difficulties for firefighters, who managed to get the fires to about 80% contained by Thursday afternoon.

The origin of the fire has not yet been determined.

Mass evacuations were in place on the island as hundreds tried to flee to the Maui airport.

President Joe Biden has approved an emergency declaration to make federal funding available to help those affected in Maui County.

ABC News’ Kenton Gewecke and Ginger Zee contributed to this report.

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