Wildfires erupted in Hawaii on August 8, primarily on the island of Maui. The death toll from the Lahaina fire is the strongest for a wildfire in the United States since the Cloquet fire in 1918.
According to Pacific Disaster Center (PDC), damage assessments related to the Lahaina Fire resulted in an estimated total of 2,719 structures exposed, 2,207 structures damaged or destroyed, and 2,170 acres burned as of August 11, 2023. Residential buildings, including much of the downtown Lahaina Historic District, accounted for 86% of the fire’s damage. Mayor Richard Bissen said, “The fires are testing Maui residents like never before,” and added, “We are grieving with each other during this inconsolable time.”
In the Star Advertiser‘s brief interview with Tamara Paltin, the representative of Lahaina in the Maui County Council, she reported that multiple historical landmarks in the Lahaina Historic District had been destroyed or damaged.
During the wildfire, 200 years old Waiola Church lost its main sanctuary, annex, and social hall. The church’s cemetery is the final resting place for early members of the royal family of the Kingdom of Hawaii. The Lahaina Jodo Mission, a Buddhist temple, is also destroyed. Maria Lanakila Catholic Church’s wooden roof sustained some damage.
The oldest hotel in Lahaina, Pioneer Inn, was also destroyed by fire and was constructed by George Alan Freeland in 1901. The Old Lahaina Courthouse’s roof was heavily damaged; it operated in 1860 as a customs house for trade and whaling ships.
Unfortunately, the Old Courthouse building, which housed the Lahaina Heritage Museum and its physical collection, was damaged. The collection held a variety of artifacts from Lahainas history, ranging from the ancient Hawaiian period to the town’s whaling era. The museum included items from the Hawaiian Kingdom, the monarchy, and the plantation period. But thanks to technology, copies of the museum’s documents had been digitized and safely stored online before the fire, according to Timothy Hurley.
The Baldwin Home Museum, the oldest house on the island of Maui, which was constructed in 1834 and 1835 as the home of American missionaries Dwight Baldwin and Charlotte Fowler Baldwin, also burned.
“The cultural loss is steep. Lahaina holds architectural and historical significance, and its buildings speak to the town’s Hawaiian origins”, said Bill Chapman, head of the graduate program in historic preservation at the University of Hawaii, to the Washington Post.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey said, “As kanaka, there are truly no words to describe the devastation and immeasurable losses in Lahaina, a national historic landmark, historic district, and former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom,” she added, “Lahaina holds some of the most historically significant cultural properties and highest-ranking sacred remains of our ancestors. There is so much history that will be forever lost, a history that tethers all of us, young and old, not only to the ‘aina but to ourselves and to each other.”
“The fires of today are partly due to the climate crisis, a history of colonialism in our islands, and the loss of our right to steward our ‘aina and wai. Today we have watched our precious cultural assets, our physical connection to our ancestors, and our places of remembering to go up in smoke. The same Western forces that tried to erase us as a people now threaten our survival with their destructive practices.” said Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey.