Thursday, May 30, 2024
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California Mourns a Wildfire Disaster in Maui

The first videos showed residents fleeing through walls of fire, frantically trying to escape a disaster that caught many of them off guard. Then came reports of people leaping into the Pacific Ocean as flames engulfed Lahaina, a historic seaside town on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

The scenes were reminiscent of some of California’s most horrific wildfires. When the Camp fire eviscerated the town of Paradise in 2018, residents had little time to escape an inferno propelled by high winds. And during the wine country fires in 2017, some desperate people jumped into their swimming pools to escape the flames.

We won’t know the full scope of the disaster in Hawaii for days. Officials are still assessing the situation and providing limited updates, each one seemingly more horrific than the last. As of Friday morning, the official death toll had risen to 55, and Gov. Josh Green of Hawaii and other officials were saying it would probably surpass the toll from the 1960 tsunami, which took 61 lives on the Big Island. The governor called the Maui fires “likely the largest natural disaster in Hawaii state history.”

California has tried to learn from its wildfires. But even with decades of experience, the state braces each year for natural disasters unlike any before, as climate change takes hold.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday dispatched more than a dozen search-and-rescue and emergency workers to Maui who are trained in locating survivors and in identifying remains. The interstate assistance is a reminder of how emergency preparedness varies from state to state.

“Maui has a lot of challenges that are unique to the geographic area, and that are different from what we experience in California,” Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said in an interview.

For starters, Hawaii’s emergency response is not as geared for fire as it is for, say, intense rain, Ferguson noted. Tens of thousands of state and local firefighters are on constant alert in California, but Hawaii, a largely rural state, has a far smaller population and far fewer emergency medical workers.

Mutual aid and firefighting equipment is much less accessible than on the mainland, he added. “Honolulu can’t just drive extra fire trucks over if Maui needs them,” Ferguson said.

California has learned the hard way how to warn residents when high winds are forecast during the fire season, so they can be alert and ready to evacuate. Residents have come to understand what red-flag alerts mean on breezy days. Utilities now cut off power preemptively to reduce the risk that downed lines will spark new blazes.

Getting the word out about a fire threat is more difficult in places like Maui, where communications can be spotty and the population swells with thousands of vacationing visitors. And evacuation is difficult any place there is only one major escape route.

Maui has a special place in the hearts of many Californians. Some visit their relatives on the island each year. Others consider Maui, a five-hour flight away, to be their favorite tourist destination, and go there for honeymoons, anniversaries and family reunions.

Now, some will go there to help residents recover.

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Today’s tip comes from Kim Bassett, who recommends one of the coolest museums in Los Angeles:

“While I was hunting for museums during a recent Los Angeles visit, a serendipitous Google search surfaced the Museum of Jurassic Technology. After the blockbuster La Brea Tar Pits and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, a visit to the Jurassic felt like an art house animation excavated from a forgotten genius’s attic. It is small, closely curated and indescribably singular, a cocktail of the unbelievably true and playfully suspicious.

We took in a survey of early animal-based folk remedies and a homage to the dogs of the early Soviet space program. The museum’s curios and narratives weave a deliberate tension between awe and amazement, knowing and doubting. Even the ‘Jurassic’ in its name doesn’t refer to a time period or a (real) place; rather, it seems a state of credulous wonder. While Los Angeles’s other museums were fascinating, the M.J.T. was undoubtedly the most wondrous.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

A number of Los Angeles landmarks are turning 100 this year, including the Hollywood sign, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the Biltmore Hotel in downtown.

Do you have any favorite memories of these institutions? Email a few sentences to, and please include your name and the city where you live.

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