Maui Fire Is Deadliest in US in 105 Years, With 93 Killed

August 14, 2023
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The death toll from fast-moving wildfires in Maui rose to 93, making them the deadliest in the US in more than 100 years, as concerns grew about the effectiveness of the island’s emergency alarm system.

The number of fatalities is expected to climb further as authorities continue search and rescue efforts, Hawaii Governor Josh Green said at a news briefing Saturday. Just 3% of the area has been searched, officials said, adding they are bringing in 12 more cadaver dogs to help with the effort. On Sunday, officials said it’s still unclear when residents may return to the area.

“This is the largest natural disaster we’ve ever experienced,” Green said. “It’s also going to be a natural disaster that takes an incredible amount of time to recover from.”

The death toll makes the wildfire the deadliest since 1918, when 453 people were killed in Minnesota and Wisconsin by the Cloquet & Moose Lake Fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Losses are estimated to be approaching $6 billion, after roughly 2,200 structures were destroyed in West Maui across the 2,170 acres burned by the blaze.

Hawaii lawmakers are responding to rising worry over what prevented alarm systems from alerting people in Lahaina.

“Sadly, tragically, in this situation, those sirens, likely did not go off,” US Representative Jill Tokuda, a Hawaii Democrat, said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation. “The warning signals that were on cell phones, we had no cell coverage or electricity in some of these areas.”

US Senator Mazie Hirono said the focus remains on the need for rescues and locating bodies. “We’re going to need to provide a lot of support,” the Hawaii Democrat said.

Efforts to identify the dead were complicated by the ferocity of the blaze, which melted metal and razed Lahaina, once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

One of three power transmission lines has been restored, providing 3,700 customers with power, Green said. Two Wifi trucks were providing services amid downed communication lines, according to the county’s website.

Local authorities are starting work on long-term recovery efforts, including housing Maui residents who have been displaced. A temporary housing task force has secured 1,000 hotel rooms, half of which will be used to house residents and the remainder provided to aid workers.

Four days on, it remains unclear what sparked the deadly blaze, which had been fanned by hurricane-force winds, and whether more could have been done to warn residents. Green said the state attorney general is conducting a comprehensive review of events and decisions in the run-up to and during the blaze, though he cautioned it would take a long time before any official determination was reached.

“The largest force at play that night were 80 mile-per-hour winds. That created an incredibly intense and dangerous circumstance,” Green said. “Having seen that storm, we have doubts that much could have been done with a fast-moving fire like that.”

Photo: Destroyed buildings and homes are pictured in the aftermath of a wildfire in Lahaina, western Maui, Hawaii on August 11, 2023. Photographer: Paula Ramon/AFP/Gety Images

Topics USA Hawaii

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