115 dead in the August 2023 Hawaii wildfires - 100 reported in safe as soon as list of 388 names was released
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This week authorities on Maui released a list of 388 people who were still missing from the August fires in Lahainas. Within hours of releasing the names, 100 had reported in safe, the FBI has confirmed.
The official death toll is currently 115.
Authorities released the names on Thursday and asked survivors to come forward, so they could focus their efforts on locating any others, the BBC reports.
The official death toll from the fires currently stands at 115.
Search teams are still searching remains of the historic town of Lahaina and other areas.
The devastating fires spread on 8 August and blazed through the oceanside town of Lahaina, home to 12,000 people.
In a press conference, FBI's special agent in charge in Honolulu, Steven Merril, said they were "very thankful for the people who have reached out by phone or email".
"As we get someone off of a list, this has enabled us to devote more resources to those who are still on the list."
In a statement on Thursday, Maui's police chief John Pellettier said the names were released in an effort to narrow down who remains unaccounted for.
"We know that it will help with the investigation," Chief Pelletier said.
According to the Associated Press, Maui County is suing the Hawaii Electrical Company for supposed negligence over their decision to not shut down power as a precaution ahead of the incoming Hurricane Dora.
Hawaii Electrical company has previosly defended their decision not to shut down the power, claiming it is a controversial practice. Downed power lines have previously been determined as a possible cause for the fires.
UPDATED AUGUST 16:
With 106 confirmed dead and 1,300 unaccounted for, Maui braces for more heartbreaking news, Los Angeles Times reports.
Maui authorities allegedly began on Tuesday August 15 to release the names of some of the people who died in the Lahaina fire / the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century.
Officials also said Tuesday that the confirmed death toll had climbed to 106 and was expected to rise.
Only 30% of the burn area has been searched so far, by the more than 90 search staff from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and their 20 cadaver dogs, authorities said.
The Lahaina fire was 85% contained Monday night- Maui County Fire Chief Bradford Ventura said helicopters would be used to fly along the fire line on Tuesday morning to look for hot spots.
More than 2700 structures, mostly residential, have been destroyed. The majority of the damage is in Lahaina.
About 2,000 people remained without power Monday night on West Maui, according to Shelee Kimura, CEO of Hawaiian Electric.
The company is facing criticism for its failure to shut off the power when dangerously strong winds from Hurricane Dora affected the island.
UPDATED AUGUST 15:
On August 14, there were 99 deaths confirmed. At least 1,000 more people remain unaccounted for.
Authorities have only been able to identify a small number of victims.
For the Lāhainā fire alone, the Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that over 2,200 buildings have been destroyed: They are mostly residential buildings, including many historic landmarks.
The damage caused by the fire has been estimated to nearly $6 billion USD.
Started in a small town on Tuesday
The disaster started just after midnight on Tuesday August 8, when a brush fire was reported in the town of Kula, around 56 kilometres from Lahaina. Five hours later that morning, the power was already out in Lahaina, according to residents.
Around 3:30 p.m. later that same afternoon, according to official county updates, the fire had already spread and was flaring up in Lahaina, a town of 13,000 people, which more or less destroyed overnight by the fire.
Eyewitnesses said the fire spread so quickly that some of them felt forced to jump into the ocean to save themselves. 14 people were rescued from the water by the US Coast Guard, according to several media reports.
On the weekend following the fire, as many 4,500 people were estimated to be in need of shelter, according to an assessment posted on the County of Maui's Facebook page early Saturday. The post was based on figures from FEMA and the Pacific Disaster Center, the CBC reports.
Every day since the fire started, the death toll have kept rising, and is still expected to be updated as search teams are going through all affected areas.
Why did the Maui wildfire spread so fast?
Just like in Europe, other parts of the US, and many other areas in the world, the summer has been very warm and dry on Hawaii. August is normally considered "dry season", with only 12 mm / 0,5 inches of rain estimated for the entire month. The drought in combination with strong wind reportedly created conditions where the fire could establish itself very quickly.
Hawaii's disaster alarm system allegedly under investigation for failure
The alarm systems on Hawaii, consisting of 400 sirens, may also have been malfunctioning, or for some reason not responding to wildfires, as they were allegedly mainly installed to warn for tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.
BBC wrote on August 14 that there are 80 outdoor sirens - tested monthly - on Maui. Maui is the second largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago, and the sirens are intended to warn residents of tsunamis and other natural disasters.
Many residents in Lahaina have allegedly witnessed that they did not hear any sirens when the wildfire approached.
According to the BBC article, these early warning sirens had failed to sound, officials have confirmed, but haven not yet stated the reason. The failure of the sirens to warn of the approaching wildfire is now under investigation by Hawaii's attorney general.
County Mayor Richard Bissen told NBC's Today show on Friday that he did not know if the sirens had sounded or not, but he said the fire moved extraordinarily quickly.
"I think this was an impossible situation," Bissen said.
The fire spread too fast for first line responders
The presence of the invasive Guinea grass which was growing quite tall in many areas is also widely considered a contributing factor to why the fire could spread so quickly. The grass grows fast, dries fast and provides a lot of potential fuel for a wildfire.
Maui County fire Chief Bradford Ventura said at a news conference on Thursday, while the fire was still not entirely contained, that the speed of the fire spread made it "nearly impossible" for front-line responders to communicate with the emergency management officials who would typically provide real-time evacuation orders, according to a CBC article on August 12.
"They were basically self-evacuating with fairly little notice," he said, referring to residents of the neighbourhood where the fire initially jumped the wildland urban interface and into the town.
Hawaiian authorities may have rated earthquakes and volcanic activities as much higher risk than wildfires
"CNN Investigates" wrote on August 13 that Hawaii had underestimated the wildfire threat:
According to the article, Hawaii officials released a report last year that ranked which natural disasters would be the most likely to threaten state residents: tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic hazards reportedly topped the list.
Near the bottom of a color-coded chart, the state emergency management agency described the risk of wildfires to human life with a single word: 'low.'”
UPDATED AUGUST 14:
The death toll in the Maui wildfire has risen to 96, according to BBC.
Hawaii Governor Josh Green claims more than 2,700 buildings have been destroyed in the town of Lahaina.
USAR teams have only covered 3% of the affected area. Hundreds of people are still missing.
Although the number of confirmed dead is was 96 on Monday, the actual number of victims is expected to rise significantly once all burned buildings and other affected areas have have been searched.
"None of us really understand the size of this yet," Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said.
UPDATED AUG 12:
THIS TEXT WILL BE UPDATED
Updated August 11
On Friday August 11 hundreds were still reported missing and the death toll is expected rise as the rescue mission continues.
According to CNN on August 11, the wildfires on Maui are now 80 percent contained.
More than 11,000 customers on the island of Maui are experiencing power outages, CNN reports.
Most of the fires are on Maui. They are affected by violent winds associated with Hurricane Dora, which is still several hundreds of miles away.
Hawaii's Big Island has also been impacted by wildfires.
Photo Credit (Cover Photo above): On August 8, the island of Maui experienced a major wildfire disaster fueled by windy and dry conditions. As of the time of writing, much of the community of Lahaina was considered destroyed and 36 fatalities had been discovered.
Photo by U.S. Coast Guard Hawaii Pacific District 14. Wikipedia Commons License
At least 55 people have died on the island of Maui in Hawaii and the United States government has called in military resources to help with extinguishing efforts. According to the island's mayor Richard Bissen, it is widely feared the death toll will rise.
80 percent of Lahaina the capital city of Maui, is reported to have burned down as the result of the wildfires.
CBA.ca reports that the fires on Hawaii were "fuelled by a dry summer and strong winds from a passing hurricane. The fire started Tuesday and took the island by surprise, racing through parched growth and neighbourhoods in the historic town of Lahaina, a tourist destination that dates to the 1700s and is the biggest community on the island's west side".
Maui County said late Wednesday that at least 36 people have died - however that figure could rise as rescuers reach parts of the island that had been unreachable because of ongoing fires or obstructions, including blocked roads. By Thursday afternoon, the death toll had risen to 53.
The wildfires have affected the island's popular tourist destination and former capital Lahaina, which is on the island's western side, hard. Large parts of the city have been destroyed and several homes have burned to the ground on Wednesday, Reuters reports.
Officials said that 271 structures had been damaged or destroyed. It is allegedly the deadliest fire since the 2018 Camp Fire in California, which killed at least 85 people and almost completely destroyed the town of Paradise.
According to CBC.ca, Hawaii Governor Josh Green told KHON 2, a local Fox affiliate, that he would tour the devastation on Maui on Thursday. Wiping away tears, he said search-and-rescue efforts over the next few days would be "incredibly traumatizing" as firefighters discovered more victims.
"We will need to rebuild the entirety of Lahaina, I believe," he said.
Josh Green said Hawaii had not seen such widespread disaster and death since 1960 when a tsunami killed 61 people, one year after it became a U.S. state,
At least 30 people have been injured and the hospitals on the island are overflowing with burn and smoke damage patients, CNN wrote on Wednesday.
Deputy Governor Sylvia Luke said to CNN that patients have to be flown off the isand for medical care.
Thousands of people have been forced to evacuate from the western part of the island. Several residents have reportedly also tried to escape by swimming straight into the Pacific Ocean, according to Reuters. At least 14 people have been rescued from the water by the coast guard.
The telephone network is out
The evacuation has been greatly complicated by power outages and the fact that all telephony has been cut off in parts of the affected area. It is therefore also unclear how many people are actually in danger.
Military help called in
US President Joe Biden has declared that Hawaii is now a disaster area. He has ordered "all available federal resources" to help Hawaii fight the fires, including the coast guard and the navy.
Former US President Barack Obama, who himself was born in Hawaii, "tweeted" on X (formerly Twitter)
"It's hard to see some of the images coming out of Hawaii - a place that is so special to so many of us."
THIS TEXT WILL BE UPDATED!
Original post on August 9
Evacuations are carried out across Hawaii’s Big Island and Maui as "unprecedented" wildfires" have damaged structures, destroyed 911 communications and even made some people jump into the ocean to escape danger, officials said on Wednesday.
According to CNN, The Hawaii National Guard was brought in to support first responders in the impacted communities in an emergency proclamation issued Tuesday by Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, who is acting governor.
Two brush fires were burning Tuesday on the Big Island, officials said in a news release. One wildfire was burning in the North Kohala District and the other in the South Kohala District. Some residents were under mandatory evacuation orders as power outages were impacting communications, the release said.
911 emergency services was down On Maui's west side on Wednesday. Destroyed cell phone towers made resorts, visitors and commercial districts lose communication, according to an emergency official.
Winds associated with the powerful Category 4 Hurricane Dora, which is passing hundreds of miles south of Hawaii, are reportedly contributing to fan strong winds over the islands.
According to CBA.ca, wind driven wildfires raced through parts of Hawaii, burning structures in historic Lahaina Town on the island of Maui, forcing evacuations and leading some to flee to the relative safety of the ocean, where they were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Illustration Credit: Map of affected areas on Hawaii. OpenStreetMap contributors: Source: Fire Information for Resource Management System (CBC)