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Hawaii's historic former capital Lahaina has been devastated by wildfires and its famous banyan tree has been burned

Lahaina in ruins after devastating Maui wildfire
Lahaina lies in ruins after devastating Maui wildfire 04:27

The deadly wildfires in Hawaiia devastated the historic town of Lahaina, on the island of Maui. Lahaina was once the capital of Hawaii — home to historic buildings and an iconic banyan tree.

History of Lahaina

Hawaii was settled between 300 to 700 A.D. when Polynesian travelers came to the Big Island and named it Havaiki, according to a website for Lahaina in Maui. Lahaina became the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1802 when King Kamehameha chose it and built a brick palace there.

Lahaina remained the capital for 50 years, until it was replaced by Honolulu. As the capital, Lahaina was the government's hub — as well as being a center of whaling and fishing — and was home to many historic buildings from that era. 

The town attracted Protestant missionaries, who began arriving in 1820. The oldest school west of the Rocky Mountains, Lahainaluna High School, was established in 1831. 

Other historic buildings include a lighthouse, built in 1840, and the Baldwin Home, which was built as a missionary compound by a reverend in 1834 and is now a museum. The Lahaina Courthouse, which was built in 1858, was restored in 1998.

The town is also known for its 60-foot banyan tree, a tourist attraction originally planted in 1873. It started out as an 8-foot tree planted by Sheriff William Owen Smith to mark the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission to the town.

The tree has been present for many historic moments — it was the site of King Kamehameha III's birthday party in 1886, and when Hawaii became a U.S. territory in 1898, a ceremony was held at the tree.

Lahaina blaze destroys structures, scorches banyan tree 

Dry conditions and high winds from Hurricane Dora helped fuel the blazes on Tuesday. Officials in Maui said Wednesday the wildfire destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes, businesses and other buildings.

Some people tried to flee by going into the ocean and at least 17, including two children, had to be rescued from Lahaina's harbor, according to the Coast Guard. 

The famous banyan tree near the waterfront in Lahaina, which grew for some 150 years, was burned in the fire. Photos and video show the tree still standing but its once lush green leaves now charred. 

Hawaii Fires Banyan Tree
A 150-year-old banyan tree rises amid the wildfire wreckage, scorched by the blaze, Aug. 10, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii. Rick Bowmer / AP

Before and after pictures show wildfire damage in Lahaina

Satellite images taken show an overview of Lahaina in June, before the wildfires ravaged the town, and on Aug. 9, after the fires tore through.

A satellite image shows an overview of Lahaina, Maui County, in Hawaii
A satellite image shows an overview of Lahaina, Maui County, in Hawaii, June 25, 2023. Maxar Technologies via Reuters
A satellite image shows an overview of wildfires in Lahaina, Maui County, in Hawaii
A satellite image shows an overview of wildfires in Lahaina, Maui County, in Hawaii, Aug. 9, 2023., 2023.  Maxar Technologies via Reuters

The historic courthouse, which was built in 1858 and restored about 140 years later, according to the town's website, was obscured by smoke, images taken Aug. 9 show. 

Old Lahaina Courthouse Maui Hawaii USA
Old Lahaina Courthouse, Maui, Hawaii. Andrew Woodley/Universal Images Group via Getty Image
Wildfires driven by high winds hit Hawaiian island of Maui
Smoke from the wildfire obscures the Old Lahaina Courthouse, Aug. 9, 2023. Dustin Johnson via Reuters

The town's Front Street is a scenic seaside road with boats docked in front of it, lined with shops and restaurants. Images show the once bustling street barren as dark smoke converged over the town. Docks in the town completely looked destroyed by the fires.

Hawaii Travel
Night view of shop windows, cars and visitors on Front Street, Maui, Lahaina, Hawaii, July 31, 2021.  Sftm/Gado/Sipa USA via AP
Hawaii Fires
People watch as smoke and flames fill the air from raging wildfires on Front Street in downtown Lahaina, Maui on Aug. 8, 2023.  Alan Dickar / AP
A charred boat lies on the scorched waterfront after a wildfire devastated the Maui city of Lahaina
A charred boat lies in the scorched waterfront in Maui's city of Lahaina, Hawaii, Aug. 9, 2023. Mason Jarvi via Reuters
Wildfires driven by high winds hit Hawaiian island of Maui
Flames are seen near boats docked at Lahaina on Aug. 9, 2023.  Dustin Johnson via Reuters
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