Lahaina Front Street Burning Down; Photos Out Of Hawaii Reminiscent Of Alaskan Fires Over A Century Ago

Maui's Historic Whaling Town Of Lahaina Burns Down  Wooden Buildings Of The Gold Rush & Whaling Era Have A History of Burning  Durin...

Maui's Historic Whaling Town Of Lahaina Burns Down 

Wooden Buildings Of The Gold Rush & Whaling Era Have A History of Burning 

During the whaling days –– when whalebone was used instead of plastic, and whale oil was used instead of gasoline – the Hawaiian Islands and Alaska were joined at the hip. The whaling boats, many of which originated in New England, sailed back and forth between the Alaska coast and Maui on a regular cycle, following the whales. 

Alaska was a whaling place, and so was Maui. Whaling oil was a driving economic force in America. 

In that era, little cities sprang up all over the north and in other parts of the world. Many of them had a "front street," where all the businesses were smacked, side by side, in a row. 

Although not on the sea, both Fairbanks and Dawson City in Canada had "front streets." They were both linked to the coast by the Yukon River. 


Historic Lahaina Town In Maui, Burning To The Ground. (Photo, Maui County) 

Until today Maui had some very historic buildings, which dated back farther than those in the northern Interior of Alaska, which wasn't settled by westerners until the late 1890s. 

The Maui town of Lahaina, with its famous front street, dated back to the 1820s. It had prison houses, cellblocks, old historic homes from the 1830s, an 1859 courthouse – and numerous side-by-side small buildings used as shops. Lahaina was a world-class historic destination. Until today.  

In early August, 2023, spurred by high winds of a hurricane, Lahaina has burned to the ground. 

It's been rapid destruction. When somebody famous dies (for example Tony Bennett), Wikipedia, the online web encyclopedia, typically updates its posting immediately to reflect the current reality. 

But at 8:45 am on August 9th, the Wikipedia posting on Lahaina's Historic District still hadn't noted the town's sudden and tragic destruction. 

Shocked Hawaiians and tourists, dealing with the tragedy, were fleeing. They were being rescued by helicopters and plucked from the ocean where they sought shelter from the fires. The people of Maui sent out heart-breaking videos to the world of Lahaina's famed front street rolling in fire, which has now leaped to other less historic places, and taken down homes in lush settlements like Kula, high on the side of the volcano. 

Lahaina is an exceptional blow. The street is known for its ancient banyan tree and its incredible historic structures, including the hospital where Herman Melville died in 1843.


 Fairbanks & Dawson City Had Similar Fires – Over A Hundred Years Ago 


Dawson City burning, 1899. 

It's a recurring theme to see these classic wooden buildings ablaze. In some ways, it's remarkable that Lahaina even got this far without being hit. In Alaska, various "front streets" burned down as fast as they were built. 

In the northland, this has all happened before. In 1899, the brand new little town of Dawson City on the Yukon burned down. 


Fairbanks front street burning in 1901. 

By 1901, only a year after Felix Pedro found gold near Fairbanks, and E.T. Barnette put in a trading post, there was a "town" along the Chena River. That very year, the town burned down in a dramatic blaze. 

At the same time, the new little town of Nome burned down. 

Meanwhile, of course, multiple old lodges all over Alaska — including the Copper Valley – have burned down over the past decade. 

This isn't the first big fire in a place in Hawaii stacked with wooden buildings, side-by-side. In 1900, trying to stop the spread of bubonic plague in "Chinatown" in Honolulu, officials set fire to buildings. The fires got out of control and burned down the town. 



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