911 Emergency Calls from Deadly Lahaina Wildfire Depict Residents’ Desperation to Escape

by Ethan Kim
0 comment
Lahaina Wildfire 911 Calls

Maui County authorities have recently released chilling audio recordings of 911 calls made during the devastating August wildfire in Lahaina, shedding light on the sheer terror and chaos that unfolded as residents grappled with the inferno’s relentless advance. These recordings, obtained in response to a public records request by The Big Big News, capture a harrowing two-hour period from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on August 8, as Lahaina faced the deadliest wildfire in the United States in over a century. Driven by ferocious winds, the flames engulfed the historic town, resulting in the tragic loss of at least 98 lives and the destruction of over 2,000 structures, the majority of which were homes.

The 911 calls paint a haunting picture of individuals trapped in their vehicles on Front Street, blocked by fallen trees obstructing evacuation routes, or deeply concerned for their loved ones left behind. Dispatchers, overwhelmed by the volume of calls, repeatedly expressed apologies to the distressed callers, acknowledging the lack of immediate assistance available due to the emergency responders’ relentless efforts to combat the raging fires.

The victims of this catastrophic event predominantly comprised individuals aged 60 and older, emphasizing the dire circumstances faced by those seeking a swift exit. In one heart-wrenching call at 3:31 p.m., a woman desperately reported her 88-year-old neighbor left behind in their house, unable to evacuate him herself. She emphasized the unlocked sliding doors but also noted the encroaching flames, pleading for assistance. The dispatcher assured her that the fire department would be informed.

Another call featured a woman residing in the senior facility known as Hale Mahaolu Eono, where four individuals found themselves without cars and the fire rapidly approaching. In a panicked voice, she sought guidance on whether they should evacuate. The dispatcher, unable to dispatch emergency vehicles due to their engagement in firefighting efforts, advised her to trust her instincts and evacuate if she felt unsafe. As cinders rained around her, she desperately flagged down passing vehicles while maintaining her connection with the dispatcher. Tragically, at least two people from the senior home lost their lives in the fire.

Yet another call, just after 3:30 p.m., inquired about the safety of evacuating Lahaina, given the presence of a fire in the caller’s vicinity. The dispatcher affirmed the necessity of evacuation if it was deemed necessary by the caller.

These audio clips also echoed a common refrain among survivors: the inability to escape, even by car, due to the congested traffic and blocked roads. One woman reported her location on Front Street, where a house was ablaze, but she was trapped in the midst of overwhelming traffic, engulfed by ashes and embers. She expressed the urgency of the situation, with flames encroaching on her vehicle. The dispatcher, empathizing with her fear, assured her that firefighters were en route.

The tragic events that unfolded in Lahaina were exacerbated by high winds from a distant hurricane, causing widespread destruction before the fire’s outbreak. Downed power lines, damaged buildings, and a fire near a Lahaina subdivision served as precursors to the impending disaster. While the initial fire was declared contained, it reignited later in the afternoon, quickly engulfing the town. Communication became severely hampered as cell phone service and power failed, rendering emergency warnings on social media and television ineffective. The island’s emergency siren system, another means of communication during emergencies, was never activated.

For many residents, the emergency dispatchers remained their sole connection to the outside world as the crisis intensified. Tragically, even this lifeline was severed in the later stages of the catastrophe. On the night of August 9, Maui County announced on Facebook that the 911 system in West Maui had ceased to function. They directed residents to contact the Lahaina Police Department directly. However, during the critical moments of the fire’s progression, the 911 system was still operational as Lahaina residents grappled with the dire circumstances. Traffic congestion, downed power lines, fires, trees, and, in some instances, law enforcement and utility vehicles blocked escape routes, leaving many drivers with agonizing decisions to make.

As Lahaina continues to grapple with the aftermath of this devastating wildfire more than two months later, officials encourage tourists to return to other parts of the island, in a collective effort to support the local economy while the town remains a disaster zone.

This article was compiled by reporters from Philadelphia and Boise, Idaho, with contributions from Big Big News writers Lisa Baumann and Gene Johnson in Seattle, Chris Keller in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Claire Rush in Portland, Oregon.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Wildfire Tragedy

What caused the deadly Lahaina wildfire in August?

The Lahaina wildfire in August was initially sparked by a downed power line, which ignited dry grass near a Lahaina subdivision.

How many people lost their lives in the Lahaina wildfire?

Tragically, at least 98 people lost their lives in the Lahaina wildfire, making it the deadliest wildfire in the United States in over a century.

Were there any specific challenges faced by elderly residents during the evacuation?

Yes, a significant portion of the victims were aged 60 or older, highlighting the challenges faced by elderly residents in swiftly evacuating from the wildfire. Many were unable to evacuate due to the congested traffic and blocked roads, placing them in life-threatening situations.

How did the communication breakdown worsen the situation?

Communication breakdowns occurred as cell phone service and power failed, rendering social media and television emergency warnings ineffective. Additionally, the island’s emergency siren system was not activated. These factors left residents with limited means of receiving critical information during the crisis.

What measures are being taken to support Lahaina’s recovery?

Efforts are being made to encourage tourists to return to other parts of the island to support the local economy as Lahaina continues to recover from the aftermath of the devastating wildfire.

More about Wildfire Tragedy

  • [Deadly Lahaina Wildfire Coverage – The Big Big News](Link to the source)
  • [Maui County Authorities – Official Website](Link to the official website for updates)
  • [Lahaina Wildfire Victims and Statistics – Maui County](Link to official statistics and information)
  • [Emergency Response in Lahaina – Maui County Dispatch](Link to information about emergency services)
  • [Hurricane Impact – Historical Weather Data](Link to historical weather data for context)
  • [Support for Lahaina’s Recovery – Local Initiatives](Link to local efforts to aid in recovery)

You may also like

Leave a Comment


BNB – Big Big News is a news portal that offers the latest news from around the world. BNB – Big Big News focuses on providing readers with the most up-to-date information from the U.S. and abroad, covering a wide range of topics, including politics, sports, entertainment, business, health, and more.

Editors' Picks

Latest News

© 2023 BBN – Big Big News