Ask the Expert: Maui Wildfires

Assessing the Maui wildfires

October 03, 2023 Photo

In the wake of the deadly and devastating Maui wildfires, attention has turned to assessing damage, determining cause, and evaluating responses.  As of the County of Maui’s Aug. 28 update, there are 115 confirmed fatalities. Guy Carpenter notes in an Aug. 23 report that over 1,000 people are still missing, and the Lahaina wildfire impacted roughly 3,100 structures. Insured loss estimates for the Lahaina wildfire are in the billions of dollars—Guy Carpenter puts the figure at between $4 billion and $6 billion.

Meanwhile, the County of Maui announced in an Aug. 24 statement that it has filed a lawsuit against Hawaiian Electric (HECO), alleging that the power company acted negligently by failing to power down electrical equipment despite a National Weather Service Red Flag Warning on Aug. 7, and that HECO’s energized and downed power lines ignited dry fuel such as grass and brush, causing the fires. For its part, in an Aug. 27 statement, HECO calls the complaint “factually and legally irresponsible,” noting records “conclusively establish” that power lines were not energized when the fire started.

As damage continues to be assessed, and as preparedness and response strategies are analyzed, debated, and litigated, CLM Magazine reached out to Michal Lörinc, head of catastrophe insight at Aon, for some perspective on the disaster and the takeaways for the industry so far.

Michal Lörinc: “With any severe weather event, there is a need for proper disaster planning, enforcement of evacuation plans, and communication between individual public authority bodies. It is also crucially important to build and maintain communication channels for the time of the emergency, so that residents of the affected area are warned. The Lahaina wildfire event also emphasized the need to expect the unexpected—particularly in the era of increasing volatility and a generally expected increase in frequency and intensity of some types of weather extremes.

“While it is too early to determine the exact scope of financial damage stemming from the event, it is likely that it will rank among the costliest wildfire events in the United States, given the very high number of structures destroyed. This shows that, while California drove the vast majority of wildfire damage in recent years, billion-dollar fires can also occur in other parts of the United States.” 


About The Authors
Phil Gusman

Phil Gusman is CLM's director of content.

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