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Lahaina fights to save 150-year-old tree that survived wildfires

  • The 150-year-old tree survived but was damaged
  • It’s survival has given a devastated community a sign of hope
  • Cleanup across Maui could end up being one of the most complex to date

A banyan tree stands along Lahaina town’s historic Front Street in February 2018, in Lahaina, Hawaii. The 150-year-old tree was scorched by a devastating wildfire that started Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, and tore through the heart of the Hawaiian island of Maui in darkness. (AP Photo/Jennifer McDermott)

LAHAINA, Hawaii (NewsNation) — While an iconic 150-year-old Banyan tree in Lāhainā was found still standing after the Maui wildfires, volunteers are working to bring it back to its former glory.

The tree survived, but it was damaged in the blaze. Since then, local arborists have been working on saving the great tree since the area was safe for them to enter after the fire.

“Thousands of leaves on the mammoth tree are scorched; but its multiple trunks show little sign of being singed during the Aug. 8 firestorm that devastated this historic, coastal West Maui community,” a spokesperson for the state’s land department told NewsNation affiliate KHON.

The beloved tree is being doused with hundreds of gallons of water every few hours.

“We did root samples last week, and we had very good news as far as new life in the roots. A lot of new roots shooting off,” said landscape contractor Chris Imonti. “We tested the moisture, and arborist Steve Nims … has analyzed all the treatments, and he is out today putting sensors on the tree to measure growth rates. With the compost tea, we are seeing good results, and as long as we give it enough love, I think it’s going to be fine.”

Cleanup of areas destroyed in the Maui wildfires could end up being one of the most complex to date, federal officials said, given the island’s significant cultural sites, its rich history including a royal residence and possibly remains of people who died in the disaster.

The first stage of cleanup started in late August, with around 200 Environmental Protection Agency workers in white protective gear removing toxic household debris from Upper Kula and the town of Lāhainā including gas cylinders, pesticides, fertilizers and battery packs used in solar power. They have monitored the air quality and sampled for heavy metals and asbestos.

The EPA expects to hand over responsibility later this month or in November to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will oversee removing the remaining debris over the next six to 12 months. About $400 million has been budgeted, but the cost could go higher to remove an estimated 400,000 to 700,000 tons of building debris from about 1,600 parcels that once had homes and businesses.

The Aug. 8 wildfire killed at least 97 people.

The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate KHON contributed to this report.

Hawaii Wildfires

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