Satellite images of the Hawaiian island of Maui, which was hit by devastating fires on Wednesday, show how the blaze completely wiped out trees and destroyed homes in the town of Lahaina, the most affected area.
The images shared on X, formerly known as Twitter, show the Lahaina Banyan Court area on June 25 and August 9. The difference between the two satellite images is striking, showing the once-green and blooming neighborhood now almost burnt to the ground.
Lahaina was decimated by the fires that began raging on Tuesday. It is a historic seaside town on the west coast of Maui, which was once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii and is still considered of great cultural importance to the island.
Local authorities reported that residents were evacuated, along with several others on Maui, and that “hundreds of families have been displaced, dozens of businesses have burned, and there’s a strong chance some people have died,” as an update on Lahaina’s website reads.
A dozen people in Maui reportedly jumped into the sea to escape the flames and were later rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Authorities say that traffic is now prohibited into Lahaina and power is out “most everywhere on the west side.” The latest update paints a dramatic picture for the town: “Lahaina Harbor is gone, some of the banyan tree. Much of Front Steet and Lahaina Town has burned, including at least some of Puamana,” it reads.
“Many boats left and helped people to escape. The Coast Guard is reported as having saved people in the ocean trying to escape flames and smoke. Multiple fires are still burning in Lahaina. We’re trying to get more info right now.”
The fire also burnt a historic large banyan tree that stood in the place of King Kamehameha’s first palace, according to town officials. He was the conqueror and first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii more than 200 years ago.
Other before and after pictures shared on social media focused on Lahaina show the “absolutely devastating” impact of the fire on the town. In one picture, a series of buildings stand tall among prosperous trees. In the other, taken after the fire, the trees and the buildings have almost completely disappeared under the smoke left by the blaze.
Local authorities confirmed on Thursday that at least 36 people have died in the fire in Maui, and hundreds of buildings were damaged. The fires—three in total—were mostly under control by Wednesday night, but the island will now have to deal with the destruction caused by the blaze.
While the cause of the fire is not yet clear, much of Hawaii was under a red flag warning for fire risk on Tuesday, when the blazes first broke out. “We don’t know what actually ignited the fires, but we were made aware in advance by the National Weather Service that we were in a red flag situation—so that’s dry conditions for a long time, so the fuel, the trees and everything, was dry,” Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, adjutant general for the State of Hawaii, Department of Defense, said during a press briefing on Wednesday.
“That, along with low humidity and high winds, set the conditions for the wildfires,” Hara added, as reported by CBS.
Scientists have found that climate change significantly increases the risk of wildfires and their severity.