MAUI, Hawaii, (AP) — Wildfires have devastated parts of Maui in Hawaii this week, destroying a historic town and forcing evacuations. The National Weather Service said Hurricane Dora, which passed south of the island chain, was partly to blame for strong winds that initially drove the flames, knocking out power and grounding firefighting helicopters.
HIRONO: WILDFIRE THREAT IN HAWAII JUST AS GREAT AS IN WESTERN U.S.
Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, said she walked through Lahaina with FEMA on Saturday to see firsthand the extent of the loss.
As she walked through the destroyed town, Hirono said she passed a line of charred cars by the ocean where it was clear to her the occupants had fled quickly — likely into the water.
“We are in a period of mourning and loss,” Hirono said.
Hirono said the attorney general has launched a review into why there were not warning sirens alerting people to the danger and allowing them to flee before wildfires quickly consumed the town.
Hirono said the tragedy showed that Hawaii has just as much of a wildfire threat as Western states and more attention needs to be paid to wildfire prevention on the island.
“There is not enough recognition that we are going to have to combat these kinds of wildfires,” Hirono said.
GOVERNOR SAYS DEATH TOLL INCREASES, POLICY REVIEW PLANNED
In a press conference Saturday, Gov. Josh Green said the number of confirmed deaths from the Maui wildfires had risen to 89, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than 100 years.
Maui County later raised the confirmed death toll to 93.
There were 2,200 structures destroyed or damaged just in West Maui, and 86% of those were residential buildings, Green said.
“The losses approach $6 billion in estimate,” Green said, adding that it would take “an incredible amount of time” to recover.
Green said officials will review policies and procedures to improve safety.
“People have asked why we are reviewing what’s going on and it’s because the world has changed. A storm now can be a hurricane-fire or a fire-hurricane,” he said. “That’s what we experienced, that’s why we’re looking into these policies, to find out how we can best protect our people.”
TOLL OF CONFIRMED DEAD IN MAUI WILDFIRES EXPECTED TO CLIMB
Green said he expects the death toll to rise. While walking down Front Street, he told reporters that some victims were positively identified Saturday.
“I had tears this morning,” Green said, adding that he was afraid of what he would see at the disaster site.
Operations were focusing on “the loss of life,” he added.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it has been spray-painting cars and buildings on Front Street with an “X” to indicate they had received an initial check, but that there could still be human remains inside. When crews complete another pass through, if they find remains, they will add the letters “HR.”
As the death toll rises, it’s unclear how morgues will accommodate the number of victims considering there is just one hospital and three mortuaries.
Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for.
Mike Rice has been looking for friends but has yet to hear from them. Complicating matters is the fact that they don’t have cellphones. It’s too early to give up hope, he said, but he has not discounted the possibility that they might have perished.
“I think they could have very well made it out,” said Rice, who now lives in California. “They may or may not have made it. I’m not going to sit around with a sense of impending doom waiting to find out.”
WHERE TO PUT THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE DISPLACED FROM THEIR HOMES
Starting this weekend 500 hotel rooms will be made available for displaced locals, and another 500 will be set aside for FEMA personnel, according to the governor.
The state wants to work with Airbnb to ensure rental homes are available for locals, and Green hopes the company can provide three- to nine-month rentals.
Flyovers by the Civil Air Patrol found 1,692 structures destroyed, almost all of them residential. Officials earlier had said 2,719 structures were exposed to the fire, with more than 80% of them damaged or destroyed.
There also was new information Saturday about damage to boats, with nine confirmed to have sunk in Lahaina Harbor, according to sonar.
Some 30 cell towers remained offline, and power outages were expected to last several weeks in west Maui.
LAHAINA RESEMBLES A GHOST TOWN
Some residents in Lahaina have expressed frustration about having difficulty accessing their homes amid road closures and police checkpoints on the western side of the island.
On the south end of Front Street on Saturday morning, one resident walked barefoot carrying a laptop and a passport, asking how to get to the nearest shelter. Another person, riding his bicycle, took stock of the damage at the harbor, where he said his boat caught fire and sank.
One fire engine and a few construction trucks were seen driving through the neighborhood, but it remained eerily devoid of human and official government activity.
Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. surveyed the damage in Lahaina on Thursday and said the historic town that has been reduced to charred vehicles and ash doesn’t resemble the place he knew growing up.
“The closest thing I think I can compare it to is perhaps a war zone, or maybe a bomb went off,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday. “It was cars in the street, doors open, melted to the ground. Most structures no longer exist.”
Regarding search and rescue efforts, he said some cadaver dogs arrived Friday.
WEST MAUI FIRE CAUSES FRIDAY NIGHT EVACUATION
Police say a new fire burning on the Hawaii island of Maui has triggered the evacuation of a community to the northeast of the area that burned earlier this week.
The fire prompted the evacuation of people in Kaanapali in West Maui on Friday night, the Maui Police Department announced on social media. No details of the evacuation were immediately provided.
Traffic was halted earlier after some people went over barricaded, closed-off areas of the disaster zone and “entered restricted, dangerous, active investigation scenes,” police said.
In an earlier Facebook post on Friday, police said many people were parking on the Lahaina Bypass and walking into nearby areas that were “locked down due to hazardous conditions and biohazards.” Police warned that violators could face arrest.
“This area is an active police scene, and we need to preserve the dignity of lives lost and respect their surviving family,” the post said.
HAWAII ATTORNEY GENERAL CONDUCTS REVIEW OF DECISIONS MADE DURING MAUI FIRES
Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez’s office will conduct a comprehensive review of decision-making and standing policies leading up to, during and after the wildfires, she said in a statement Friday.
“My Department is committed to understanding the decisions that were made before and during the wildfires and to sharing with the public the results of this review,” Lopez said. “As we continue to support all aspects of the ongoing relief effort, now is the time to begin this process of understanding.”
MAUI COUNTY SAYS DON’T DRINK WATER, SHORT SHOWERS OK. EXPERT SAYS NO
Kula residents who have running water were warned Friday by the Maui County water agency not to drink it and to take only short, lukewarm showers “in a well-ventilated room” to avoid exposure to possible chemical vapors, though some experts caution against showering at all.
Agency director John Stufflebean told The Associated Press that people in Kula and Lahaina should not even drink water after boiling it until further notice, as hundreds of pipes have been damaged by the wildfires.
“We talked to the health department, and they say it is OK to take a short shower,” Stufflebean said. “You don’t want to make the water really hot, but lukewarm water in a well-ventilated area should be OK.”
The state needs to reassess their guidance to the utility, said Andrew Whelton, an engineering professor at Purdue University whose team was called in after the 2018 fire that destroyed Paradise, California, and the 2021 Marshall Fire in Boulder County, Colorado.
“Showering in water that potentially contains hazardous waste levels of benzene is not advisable,” Whelton said. “A ‘Do Not Use’ order is appropriate as a precautionary measure until sampling and analysis is conducted.”
Whenever a water pipe is damaged or a city water tank is drawn down very quickly, it can lose pressure. That can cause the unpressurized pipes to suck in smoke and other contaminants. Some of the contaminants that are common with urban wildfires are cancer-causing.
Crews are now shutting off valves for damaged pipes to avoid further contamination, Stufflebean said. Next, the Department of Water Supply will flush the system, which could take a few days. Officials then plan to test for bacteria and an array of volatile organic compounds, following recommendations from the Hawaii State Department of Health, he said.
Maui gets drinking water from streams and aquifers. It has a large public water system, but some people are on private, unregulated wells.
MAUI WILDFIRES PROJECTED TO BE THE 2ND COSTLIEST DISASTER IN HAWAII HISTORY
The wildfires are expected to be the second costliest disaster in the history of Hawaii, second only to damages from 1992’s Hurricane Iniki, according to a Friday statement from a prominent disaster and risk modeling company.
Karen Clark & Company said in the statement that approximately 3,500 structures were within the perimeter of the fire that torched the popular tourist town of Lahaina in west Maui.
MAUI COUNTY’S MAYOR CALLS WILDFIRE AN ‘IMPOSSIBLE SITUATION’
Bissen Jr. said Friday he couldn’t comment on a report by the AP that the state’s emergency management records showed no indication that warning sirens sounded off before people were forced to flee.
“I think this was an impossible situation,” Bissen told NBC’s “Today” show. “The fires came up so quickly and they spread so fast.”
Meanwhile, the county said residents with identification and visitors with proof of hotel reservations could return to parts of Lahaina starting at noon Friday. They will not be allowed into a restricted area of the historic part of Lahaina.
The county said in a statement that a curfew, intended to protect residences and property, would be in place starting Friday from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
This story has been updated to correct the date and location of past wildfires. The Camp Fire occurred in 2018, not 2017, and the 2021 Marshall Fire was in Boulder County, Colorado, not Boulder.
Associated Press journalists Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska; Ty O’Neil in Lahaina, Maui; Christopher Weber in Los Angeles; Audrey McAvoy, Claire Rush and Jennifer Kelleher in Honolulu; Christopher Megerian in Salt Lake City; Bobby Caina Calvan in New York; Caleb Jones in Concord, Massachusetts; Brittany Peterson in Denver; Janie Har in San Francisco; and Sophie Austin in Sacramento contributed to this report.