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Water supply and firefighting: Early lessons from the 2023 Maui fires
  • Robert B. Sowby,
  • Braxton W. Porter
Robert B. Sowby
Brigham Young University

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Braxton W. Porter
Brigham Young University


Even though drinking water utilities are not meant to fight wildfires, they quickly become stakeholders, if not first responders, when their resources are needed for firefighting. The August 2023 wildfires on the island of Maui, Hawaii, USA, have highlighted weaknesses at this intersection. We analyze this extreme case to support disaster-response lessons for water utilities and to guide further research and policy. First, emergency water releases were not available in a timely manner. Second, fire and wind toppled power lines, causing power outages that inhibited pumping water. Third, many structures were a total loss despite water doused on them, consuming valuable water. Finally, water was lost through damaged premise plumbing in burned structures, further reducing system pressure. These conditions emphasize that water utilities need to access emergency water supplies quickly, establish reliable backup electricity, coordinate with firefighters on priority water uses, and shut valves in burned areas to preserve water. While further research will certainly follow, we present these early lessons as starting points.
18 Feb 2024Published in Water volume 16 issue 4 on pages 600. https://doi.org/10.3390/w16040600