Late Tuesday afternoon, a man named Cole Millington from Lahaina was driving his truck with his dog and putting ‘a go bag at his side when an emergency call came through his phone.
According to Millington, the evacuation notice did not specifically mention that they were evacuated, but the real warning was triggered by the massive black smoke cloud in the sky over Lahaina.
Millington and his roommates were relieved to have left, but they fled as the Hawaiian island of Maui was ravaged by wildfires, leading to the deaths of at least 93 people and the destruction of hundreds of structures.
Millington, who owns a hot sauce company in the historic town, believes that the cell phone alert was worthless as tsunami warnings should have been utilized.
Adam Weintraub, a spokesperson for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, stated that the state’s impressive integrated outdoor siren warning system, which is the largest in the world, did not get activated during the fires.
The Hawaiian archipelago’s second largest island, Maui, has 80 outdoor sirens that are activated to warn residents of tsunamis and other natural disasters. They remained silent as people sought refuge from the crowd.
Weintraub stated in an interview that the sirens were not activated by anyone at the state or county.
He pointed out that the swiftness of the flames was a significant factor, as emergency management officials neglected to activate the sirens. They were also trying to coordinate response on the ground and had already issued other alert systems.
According to Weintraub, the emergency warning system was activated through layers of mobile phone alerts and messages on televisions.
Allen Vu, a resident of Lahaina who lost his home and the restaurant where he worked, reported that they were alerted by their cell phone about the fire and high winds.
We were not provided with any real warning, unlike the Amber Alerts or storms that would make loud noises from phones.
The emergency warning system’s effectiveness in responding to the rapidly spreading fires in Lahaina and other areas on Tuesday has led some Maui residents, including Vu and Millington, to question whether it was effective.
Hawaiians have a habit of using sirens to warn them.
CNN provides video evidence of a Hawaiian representative’s speech on Maui fires at 04:00 AM.
Anne Lopez, the Hawaii Attorney General, has announced that her office will be conducting a comprehensive review of the emergency response to better understand the decisions made before and during the wildfires.
The emergency alert system’s redundancies were not enough to make the state appear quick and deadly, according to Rep. Jill Tokuda, a Democrat who believed that the issue was understated.
The outdoor siren warning system is tested on a monthly basis in Hawaii, which has been accustomed to.
She informed CNN on Saturday that they rely on their emergency alert system to protect them from various emergencies, including wildfires and tsunamis. However, the systems are now being used for cell phone alerts due to lack of coverage.
Maui’s warning sirens were not activated, and emergency communications with residents were limited to mobile phones and broadcasters during a time when power and cell service were cut short.
Weintraub stated that Maui has not shown any signs of wrongdoing.
He added, “Maui County was facing a difficult situation that was changing rapidly and I think they did their best to save lives. And they still have saved many lives.”
In addition to the sirens, Hawaii also has multiple channels for communication, such as media, social media platforms, and individuals from its community, friends, or family members, according to Karl Kim, the executive director of the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center at the University of Hawaii.
In an email to CNN, he stated that more needs to be done to understand the science of wildfires, including how they spread, and how detection, alert, warning systems, can be improved.
People often wait to see the flames, smoke, or others before taking action. However, the consequences of a slow fire may be fatal, as they may not have the knowledge or ability to evacuate immediately.
‘No one anticipated this, of course.’
CNN provides information on a family’s frightening escape from the Maui wildfires at 01:18.
The fire spread so quickly that many individuals departed their homes without being informed by authorities, as per Maui County Fire Chief Brad Ventura. He also noted that emergency management officials could not provide timely evacuations.
The neighborhood was engulfed in flames as a result of the rapid fire, leaving the first residents who were evacuated without any prior planning.
“No one anticipated this event,” Maui County Police Chief John Pelletier declared.
The blaze, which was caused by the combination of fierce winds and low humidity and the island’s topography, resulted in the near-extinction of the Lahaina tourism and business community, leaving authorities scrambling to locate the missing individuals.
According to Gov. Josh Green, the death toll may increase as more people try to escape the burning building. The governor stated that the number of casualties is still unknown in the burned-out remains of a former whaling port and fishing village on Maui’s west coast.
The spread of fires on Tuesday resulted in the termination of power and communication, including 911 and cell phone service. On Saturday, communication was compromised due to severed lines. Many individuals reported not receiving calls or messages from their loved ones in days. Officials resorted to updating the public through radio stations and posting updates on the county’s website and social media pages.
The weather service provided information that alerted residents.
The Maui fire survivors recounting their harrowing accounts at 02:55 in CNN’s Video Ad Feedback.
It appears that both residents and authorities were taken aback, despite being warned.
Clay Trauernicht, an assistant specialist studying tropical fire at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, mentioned that they had a few days to prepare for the weather conditions.
A “fire weather watch” was issued by the National Weather Service in Honolulu on Sunday, warning that the state could face severe fire conditions across leeward areas due to high winds and low humidity.
The weather service issued a red flag warning early Monday morning due to dry lands, strong and gusty easterly winds, and low humidities that lead to critical fire weather conditions.
The warning indicated that fires would likely spread quickly.
The wind shifted and smoke and flames quickly overtook the community, leaving residents with less than 10 minutes to prepare, according to May Wedelin-Lee, a resident of Lahaina who lost her home there.
Maui resident Wedelin-Lee, aged 20, reported that people were begging and wept on the roadside.
“A few individuals were compelled to go for strides on their bikes, run, skateboard, or carry cats under their arm, even carrying a baby.
Maui County provided an optimistic update on the Lahaina fire at 9:55 a.m., which was released only hours earlier.
The Lahaina brush fire was declared completely contained by the Maui Fire Department on Facebook just before 9 a.m. on Tuesday, according to the county.
The county informed the inhabitants about another wildfire that occurred an hour later.
The county reported that residents in the Kula 200 and Hanamu Road areas were evacuated due to a brush fire that occurred at Olinda Road at 12:22 p.m. on Saturday, as confirmed by firefighters at 10:50 acreage.
Another wildfire became threatening on Tuesday afternoon.
The Fire Department has issued a warning to residents of Piiholo and Olinda roads to evacuate immediately due to the potential threat of an Upcountry brush fire, as reported by Maui County at 3:20 p.m.
The Fire Department has requested the immediate evacuation of residents in the subdivision, which includes Kulalani Drive and KULALANI Circle, due to an upcountry brush fire that started within an hour.
The Lahaina fire was later resurged, according to the county.
The Lahaina Bypass was closed at approximately 3:30 p.m. due to an apparent flareup of the fire, as reported by Maui County at 4:45 pp.
The county stated that Lahaina and Upcountry Maui fires had resulted in multiple evacuations by 5:50 p.m. Tuesday.
It is a wake-up call.
On August 8, the hall of the Waiola Church and the Lahaina Hongwanji Mission in Lahu, Hawaii, were engulfed by flames. Volunteers from the community unloaded supplies and loaded them onto boats for those in need at Kihei Ramp on Maui.
A report released by Hawaii officials last year identified natural disasters that are most likely to harm state residents, including tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic hazards. However, the state emergency management agency report indicated that the risk of wildfires posing a low risk to human life.
The state and local emergency planning documents reviewed by CNN reveal that Hawaii officials were not adequately prepared for the deadly wildfires, despite acknowledging their lack of necessary resources.
The state emergency management agency’s public resources webpage provides bullet-point recommendations for residents in the event of a hurricane, tsunami, flash flood, or earthquake, with two brief paragraphs about wildfires at the bottom of the page, without any comparable guidance on how to stay safe.
As Hurricane Lane approached Hawaii in 2018, bush fires burned 2,330 acres of Maui, and the next year, fire destroyed roughly 25,000 acres.
Kim emphasized the need for greater investment in preparedness and education on wildfires and other hazards, not just in Hawaii. She also highlighted the importance of understanding the dangers of these disasters to address any potential risks before they become too severe.
The Maui fire is the most fatal in the country since California’s Camp fire, which claimed the lives of 85 people in November 2018.
The unpredictability of fires necessitates swiftness in making decisions, according to Brock Long, the former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from June 2017 to March 2019.
He stated that Maui County seemed to have taken a proactive approach in alerting people about the danger of fires and suggesting evacuation. However, he also observed that some early instances did not prompt individuals to evacuate.
Rachel Zimmerman, a photographer from Maui who lost her home, recounted the confusion and chaos caused by the approaching fires.
“She remembered how the wind was howling and we could see roofs flying off,” she said. “Even as I lived in my condo complex, neighbors were waiting to assist us with a plan.”
“The fire prompted people to flee into the sea, while others were left on the ground crying and struggling to breathe due to smoke. It’s heartbreaking to see how many individuals have been lost without knowing where they are.”