Devastating Maui fires sparks concerns about beloved banyan tree

Devastating Maui fires sparks concerns about beloved banyan tree
Hawaii: Maui locals flee into ocean to escape wildfire

Concerns are mounting over the fate of a historic banyan tree in Hawaii, after a wildfire on the island of Maui killed at least six people and destroyed vast swathes of a local town.

Dry weather and strong winds from Hurricane Dora caused the fires to rip through the historic town of Lahaina, leaving hospitals overwhelmed with burns victims.

Brian Schatz, a US senator from the state, said on social media on Wednesday that Lahaina is “almost totally burnt to the ground”, as firefighters fought to bring the blaze under control.

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Amid the tragedy is the largest banyan tree in Hawaii, which spans 1.94 acres and has 16 trunks. Missionaries gifted it to the town in 1873 when it was a sapling, and it has become a popular tourist attraction.

People expressed desperation over the potential fate of a landmark that is so beloved to people on the island in recent decades, while also extending sympathy to the people whose lives have been turned upside down.

One person wrote: “My heart breaks for the people, the lost lives, the loss of those historic places they call home and that we malihini have been privileged to visit—and the banyan tree which always represented the spirit of Aloha that the locals embody.”

Others shared aerial photos which appeared to show the branches of the tree still upright. However, most agreed it is difficult to know how severe the damage will be, or if the tree has survived the blaze.

And others shared videos of the majestic tree from before the fire.

Meteorologists said the wildfires were made more severe by two extreme weather phenomena occurring at the same time – a drought which was worse than normal for this time of year, and Hurricane Dora blowing to the south of the island.

"The fire can be a mile or more from your house, but in a minute or two, it can be at your house," added Maui County’s fire assistant chief Jeff Giesea.

"Local people have lost everything... They’ve lost their house, they’ve lost their animals and it’s devastating," said business, economic development, and tourism director, James Kunane Tokioka.

Several people were even forced to jump into the ocean to escape the flames. Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke has deployed the Hawaii National Guard and requested that the White House declare the situation a federal emergency.

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