Authorities announced on Saturday that a wildfire in Maui resulted in the death of at least 89 people, making it the deadliest wild fire on U.S. land since 1880.
The death toll on Saturday was confirmed when federal emergency workers with axes and cadaver dogs searched through the rubble of fire, marking the remains of homes with an orange X sign for search activity and HR after finding human remains.
The dogs worked the rubble, and their occasional barking, a signal to notify their handlers of if someone is dead, was heard over the incensed and lackluster sky.
The fire that swept through Lahaina on Maui’s west coast four days ago resulted in the destruction of numerous homes and transformed a tropical, lush area into ash-covered moonscape. The governor of the state anticipated finding more bodies.
Gov. Josh Green stated on Saturday that the devastation on Front Street was going to increase, and it will be the most severe natural disaster Hawaii has ever experienced. The priority is to reunite survivors with their families and provide them with housing and healthcare before moving on to rebuilding.
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier has identified two of the 89 victims, and he stressed that identifying the deceased is a challenging task as the remains are difficult to collect.
He stated that the remains found were caused by a melted metal fire and therefore required rapid DNA to identify the family and friends, with all 89 of them being John and Jane.
Green reported that West Maui experienced the destruction or damage of at least 2,200 buildings, with 86% of them being residential. He also noted that the estimated damage cost around $6 billion across the island and its recovery would take an extraordinary amount of time.
Maui has experienced two additional fires, namely in Kihei and Upcountry, with no fatalities. A fourth fire was reported on Friday evening in Kaanapali, an inland community in West Mauritius north of Lahaina, but was put out by crews after being discovered on Saturday.
According to Green, the Upcountry fire had a devastating impact on 544 structures, with 96% of them being residential.
Emergency responders in Maui were searching for places to put people who have been displaced from their homes. County officials stated that as many as 4,500 individuals are seeking shelter on Facebook, according to figures from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Pacific Disaster Center.
Those who survived counted their blessings as they mourne the loss of those who didn’t make it.
Initially, Geoff Bogar and Franklin Trejos, who had served as firefighters for 35 years, decided to stay in Lahaina to assist others. However, the flames continued to approach, prompting them to flee to their own cars. When Bocar’s car wouldn’t start, they both broke through the window and crawled onto the ground until a police patrol found him and took him to the hospital.
Trejos was not as lucky. Upon his return, Bogar discovered the bones of his 68-year-old friend in the back seat of their car, on top of the remains of Sam’s 3-year old golden retriever, whom he had attempted to protect.
Trejos, who was born in Costa Rica, had been living with Bogar and his wife, Shannon Weber-Bogar for years. He helped her overcome seizures and filled them with love and laughter.
According to Weber-Bogar, God recognized a man who was exceptionally good.
Bill Wyland, who resides on the island of Oahu but owns an art gallery in Lahaina’s historic Front Street, fled on his Harley Davidson on Tuesday and used it to maneuver through gridlocked streets while suffering from embers that cut off his hair.
While riding in winds estimated to be at least 70 miles per hour (112 kilometers per hours), he passed by a man on his bicycle who was pedaling for his life.
Wyland remarked that the item was something you would observe in a horror movie or Twilight Zone.
The death toll recorded today was higher than that of the 2018 Camp Fire, which caused 85 fatalities and destroyed the town of Paradise. The 1918 Cloquet Fire in northern Minnesota, just before it ignited in 1848, devastated numerous rural areas.
The wildfires have been the most devastating natural disaster in the state since 1960, with a tsunami and an emergency alert system being developed to protect the territory.
The absence of Hawaii emergency management records indicates that the warning sirens were activated before the fire took place in the town. Officials alerted mobile phones, televisions, and radio stations, but power and cellular outages may have prevented their transmission.
A dry summer and powerful winds from a hurricane caused the wildfires on Maui, which spread rapidly through damp vegetation.
On Tuesday, the most severe fire to hit Lahaina affected 13,000 residents, resulting in the destruction of almost all buildings and leaving a grid of gray rubble between the blue ocean and lush green slopes.
On Saturday morning, Front Street, the historic downtown and economic center of Maui, was almost deserted. A journalist for The Associated Press encountered a man walking naked with barefoot shoes, carrying satchels, laptops, and passports who asked where the nearest shelter was. Another man riding bicycle reported damage at the harbor where his boat caught fire and subsequently flooded.
To prevent chemical vapor exposure, Maui water officials advised Lahaina and Kula residents to avoid drinking running water as it may be contaminated even after boiling, and to take showers only in well-ventilated rooms.
The danger on Maui was widely recognized, and a report published in 2020 revealed that Lahaina and other West Mauigan towns were facing frequent wildfires and several structures were at risk. Additionally, the report noted that West Hawaii had the second-highest rate of non-English-speaking households and the highest rate for those living alone on the island.
The plan suggests that the population’s capacity to receive, comprehend, and act quickly during hazard events may be constrained.
Maui’s firefighting efforts may have been hindered by a shortage of personnel and equipment.
Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Firefighters Association, stated that there are no more than 65 county firefighters on duty at any one time, and they are responsible for managing three islands in Maui, Molokai Island, Lanaim Island.
Green stated that policies and procedures will be evaluated to enhance safety by officials.
The speaker noted that people have asked why we are examining the situation, given that the world has changed and events like hurricanes can now be either hurricane-fire or fire-hurricane.
After climbing up an adjacent building to take a closer look, Riley Curran left his Front Street home and believes that county officials could have done more.
Curran stated that the fire went from zero to 100, without any indication of people avoiding it.
Curran stated that he had witnessed terrible wildfires during his childhood in California.
He added that he had never witnessed someone consume a complete town in just four hours.
From Honolulu, Kelleher reported from and from New York, while Dupuy contributed to this report. The Associated Press had writers Rebecca Boone, Andrew Selsky, Bobby Caina Calvan, Audrey McAvoy, Ty O’Neil, and Lisa J. Adams Wagner working on the story.
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