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Forecast podcast: Search for victims continues after historic Maui fire

Team Rubicon volunteers on the ground in Maui

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Joe Veyera discuss the Hawaii fires, plus more on elections in Ecuador, South Korea and the U.S. holding military drills, the BRICS summit in South Africa and elections in Zimbabwe.

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This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Joe Veyera, Irene Villora, Vivian Wang, Agnese Boffano and Sophie Perryer. Produced and edited by Jimmy Lovaas. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

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Factal Forecast podcast transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is August 17.

In this week’s forecast we’ll take a look at the devastating fires in Hawaii, elections in Ecuador, South Korea and the U.S. holding military drills, the BRICS summit in South Africa and elections in Zimbabwe. 

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

Hawaii fires

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: Up first, we’ll look at the deadly fire on Maui. For more on that I’ve got the lead for our Americas desk, Joe Veyera.

JIMMY: Hello, Joe. 

JOE: Hey, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Joe, I’m glad you’re here. The past week or so has been a real nightmare for an awful lot of folks in Maui and I hope you can get us caught up on what we need to know about all that. So to start us off, can you maybe give us a recap on this fire? 

JOE: Yes, so the first brush fire broke out in central Maui early last Tuesday, hours after a red flag warning was issued. Later that morning, another broke out east of Lahaina, and by that evening, we began to see the flames impact the iconic Front Street and downtown area. It wasn’t long after that, that we started to see the scope of the damage, which as you mentioned was immense.

JIMMY: And what’s the latest then? How are things looking at the moment?

JOE: The death toll stands at 110 people as of Wednesday afternoon and with hundreds more unaccounted for that number is expected to rise. It’s already the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century, surpassing the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, California, which killed 85. And at least 2,200 structures have either been damaged or destroyed with Lahaina bearing the brunt. Power has been restored to all but 2,000 of the 12,000 or so customers in West Maui who lost service, not including the homes and businesses that have been destroyed, while an unsafe water advisory remains in place for some areas.

JIMMY: How has the government responded to the Lahaina fire?

JOE: Well, President Biden issued a major disaster declaration last Thursday, which frees up federal aid to assist in the recovery efforts and he’ll travel to Maui on Monday to meet with first responders, survivors and local officials. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell has already visited and has stressed the need for residents to apply for aid, saying only 1,300 households are currently registered so far. The White House says more than 700 federal personnel have been deployed to support the response efforts, including nearly 200 search and rescue team members. But all that said, the president has also received some blowback for going several days without commenting on the situation prior to the announcement of his impending visit,

JIMMY: How about the reactions from the people? Personally, my TikTok feed is filled with kama’aina — you know, Hawaiian residents — expressing feelings, from understanding to, you know, just being downright furious. And that’s both kanaka –you know, native Hawaiians – and Hawaiian transplants. Are you saying the same?

JOE: It’s complicated as you would expect, but I think it’s human nature after something this catastrophic to ask what could have been done differently. And right now there are a lot of what-ifs. Videos have circulated suggesting fallen utility lines [as] the possible fire starter. So what if those lines had been de-energized after the red flag warning was issued? And when the fires did start to encroach on homes, why wasn’t the emergency siren system activated? Then you have the potential knock-on effects and this fear that land speculators are going to come in, buy the scorched earth, and push out the locals. And that’s a valid concern, so much so that Governor Josh Green has directed the state’s attorney general to explore a possible moratorium on the sale of properties damaged or destroyed by fire.

JIMMY: Well, considering all that, what do you think folks should be watching for next?

JOE: Well, in addition to the president’s visit, sadly, we are going to have to keep a close eye on the death toll with such a significant number of people still missing. Even with the apparent destruction, we’re not going to grasp the scope of it all until those figures become clearer. FEMA estimates the cost to rebuild Lahaina would be at least $5.5 billion. So in the months and years to come, we’ll have to see both who foots that bill, and in turn, who benefits.

JIMMY: Well, Joe, we’ll pause there for now, but I thank you for getting us caught up and I know you’ll be keeping a close eye on Maui for us in the days to come. Thanks for that.

JOE: As always. 

JIMMY: Take care

Ecuador elections

Information compiled by Irene Villora

JIMMY: Ecuadorians will vote in a snap election on Sunday. 

The polls come amid a wave of political instability and cartel violence in the country.

The vote will take place amid a nationwide state of emergency just a week after presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was assassinated at a campaign event in Quito. 

He was also a former journalist, who built a political career uncovering former President Rafael Correa’s involvement in corruption cases.

Villavicencio’s murder took place amid an uptick of violence related to drug cartels. Violence that’s taken place under outgoing President Guillermo Lasso, who called early elections after the parliament tried to impeach him over embezzlement. 

Since 2019 Ecuador has seen prison violence spread into the streets – especially in the cities of Guayaquil and Esmeraldas. It’s part of an open war between rival factions of Los Choneros to control drug trafficking in the country.

Now, due to the current climate and after Villavicencio’s violent death, the discourse among the seven candidates aspiring to become president has been focused mainly on security. 

Finally, despite a lot of indecision among voters, candidate of the Revolución Ciudadana party Luisa Gonzalez leads the polls. 

That lead is reportedly due to her promises of a return to the levels of stability, security and economic prosperity of Rafael Correa’s administration.

South Korea and U.S. to hold key military drills

Information compiled by Vivian Wang

JIMMY: South Korea and the United States will begin the annual Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise starting Monday. 

The military exercise is scheduled to last 11 days and will involve South Korean and U.S. forces from across all services.

The exercises will include some 30 allied field drills

In response, North Korea has ratcheted up hostile rhetoric in the lead-up to the drills, with leader Kim Jong Un recently calling for an increase in weapons production and preparations for war contingencies. 

The reclusive regime also test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time in three months in mid-July.

Now, Pyongyang will presumably continue expressing its disapproval throughout the duration of the exercises, with weapons tests a likely possibility.

Meanwhile, South Korea will also be carrying out its first nationwide civil defense drill in six years on Aug. 23. 

That’s an effort to prepare for air raid situations, which will involve mandatory evacuations to shelters and the restriction of all outdoor movement for 15 minutes.

BRICS summit

Information compiled by Agnese Boffano

JIMMY: South Africa will host the 15th BRICS summit in Johannesburg beginning on Tuesday.

The international summit goes until Aug. 24 and will include officials from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. 

All heads of states are expected to attend in person, except for Russia, which will send its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. That, of course, due to the ICC arrest warrant against President Vladimir Putin over alleged war crimes in Ukraine. 

This conference is set to be one of the largest so far, with South Africa sending invitations to more than 60 heads of state

The United States, United Kingdom and France did not receive an invitation.

Now, this summit will be the first time that BRICS heads of state will meet in person since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The key issue set to be discussed will be whether to expand membership to the group

That’s a point being pushed by China’s geopolitical expansionist policies as well as Russia as a way to overcome the isolation Moscow has faced since the full invasion of Ukraine. 

Brazil is reportedly against further expansion of BRICS membership and as the group operates by consensus, Brazi’s support will be key. 

Approximately 30 countries have expressed interest in joining and 22 have formally applied, most recently Algeria.

Zimbabwe elections

Information compiled by Sophie Perryer

JIMMY: Zimbabwe will hold a general election on Wednesday. 

Incumbent President Emerson Mnangagwa faces longtime opposition leader Nelson Chamisa against the backdrop of an increasingly repressive political environment.

Mnangagwa came to power in a contested and violent 2018 election, eight months after dictator Robert Mugabe was deposed in a party coup. 

And during his five-year tenure, Mnangagwa has presided over skyrocketing inflation, allegations of rampant corruption and a systematic crackdown against government critics. 

Today, Zimbabwe is isolated from its regional neighbors and heavily sanctioned by Western powers. 

That, due to human rights abuses and the government’s failure to resume servicing the country’s $14 billion in foreign debt.

Now, concerns are mounting over the fairness of Wednesday’s polls; Chamisa says more than 60 party meetings have been banned or disrupted by police and the opposition has not had equal access to the state media apparatus. 

A simple majority is required to win the vote and results must be published within five days. 

If no candidate reaches the 50 percent threshold, a run-off will be held on Oct. 2.

JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.  

Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Irene Villora, Vivian Wang, Agnese Boffano and Sophie Perryer. Our interview featured editor Joe Veyera and the podcast is produced and edited by me – Jimmy Lovaas. Our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.

Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Top photo: Team Rubicon’s greyshirts volunteer in Maui.