Anxiety and Chaos Evident in Lahaina Residents’ 911 Calls Amidst Devastating Wildfire

by Ryan Lee
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Wildfire Emergency

Maui County officials have released a harrowing two-hour recording of 911 calls made by Lahaina residents as they desperately attempted to escape the deadliest wildfire the United States has witnessed in a century. This inferno, which engulfed Lahaina, claimed the lives of a staggering 98 people and laid waste to over 2,000 structures, the majority of them being homes.

Here, we provide a chronological overview of select calls from the more than 200 that were documented by 911 dispatchers between 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on August 8, as obtained by the AP.

3:31 p.m.

A woman dialed 911 inquiring about the necessity of evacuation. She revealed her location on Front Street and Baker Street, a region in the historic heart of the town that would eventually succumb to the flames. In response, she was advised that evacuation was not imperative at that moment.

An audibly stressed dispatcher stated, “That’s not close to it yet,” before acknowledging the overwhelming volume of calls pouring in.

4:41 p.m.

A man made a frantic 911 call, reporting that he sought refuge in a large rig truck he had encountered near the Pioneer Mill Smokestack, just off Lahainaluna Road. He had initially attempted to escape on a bicycle but abandoned it as the fire grew more intense, with vehicles around him erupting in flames.

The dispatcher inquired whether he could drive the truck to escape the fire, to which he replied that he didn’t know how to operate an 18-wheeler. He urgently pleaded, “Ma’am, I need help, OK! I’m getting burned up here.”

As the call progressed, his panic escalated. “I’m running for it. Jesus Christ,” he exclaimed. “Oh my God. I don’t know what to do… I gotta get outta here. I gotta do something.” About 15 minutes later, he called back to confirm that he had safely escaped the truck.

4:42 p.m.

A caller, who sounded like a young girl, phoned in from near Aki Street. Her voice quivered with panic as she reported, “The fire’s all over already. It’s all over Lahainaluna.” In the background, frantic voices debated their course of action, with references to a “dead end.”

The dispatcher urgently advised, “You guys need to leave. If you can’t drive away, get out of the car and run. Do not stay in your car and wait. Get out of there. You guys need to worry about your bodies, not your car.”

4:44 p.m.

Amidst tears and sobs, a caller struggled to articulate her distress. She shared that she had last seen her mother and baby on Kahena Street, near Lahainaluna Road.

The dispatcher attempted to offer reassurance, mentioning that officers were in the vicinity. However, when she asked the caller’s mother’s age, the call abruptly disconnected.

4:49 p.m.

A man called to report that he and his wife were trapped because she was unable to descend the four flights of stairs in their apartment building.

The dispatcher conveyed that they would alert the police and inquired if any neighbors could assist. The man replied, “They’re a bunch of girls, they’re not very strong. I don’t think they could help my wife down the steps.”

The dispatcher assured him, “Let me try my best to get a hold of somebody and try to send them your way.”

4:52 p.m.

A woman called from Front Street and Baker Street, reporting being trapped in traffic as the fire advanced, creating thick smoke that impeded escape on foot.

The dispatcher directed her to head north to the Lahaina Civic Center, but the caller expressed their inability to reach that destination due to being stuck. The dispatcher advised against turning around and suggested, “Just keep going the way you’re going. Don’t just turn around and make it worse, you know what I mean? So if you gotta go slowly, just keep plugging away.”

4:55 p.m.

Another caller from the same intersection conveyed their terror, trapped in their vehicles amidst massive traffic. They described being enveloped in ashes and embers while flames encroached upon their car.

When they inquired if emergency services could clear the road for the trapped vehicles, the dispatcher assured them that the fire department and other officers were en route. “I’m sorry. We’re trying to get somebody out there,” the dispatcher offered.

4:56 p.m.

In one call, a dispatcher briefly admonished a man reporting that his elderly parents were trapped in their burning home. She questioned why they hadn’t called directly, which would have facilitated locating them, and expressed that they should have left the house sooner.

The man replied, “Yes, we’ve been trying to tell them. My dad was trying to fight the fire.” He concluded with the haunting words, “The last words he said is, ‘I love you. We’re not going to make it.'”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Wildfire Emergency

Q: What is the context of the 911 calls mentioned in the text?

A: The 911 calls discussed in the text were recorded during a deadly wildfire in Lahaina, which became the deadliest wildfire in the United States in a century. These calls capture the fear and desperation of residents trying to escape the inferno.

Q: How many people were killed in the Lahaina wildfire?

A: At least 98 people lost their lives in the Lahaina wildfire, and more than 2,000 buildings, primarily homes, were leveled.

Q: What time frame do the 911 calls cover?

A: The 911 calls were recorded between 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on August 8, providing a snapshot of the critical moments during the wildfire’s outbreak.

Q: What were some of the specific incidents mentioned in the 911 calls?

A: The calls include instances of residents seeking evacuation advice, individuals trapped in vehicles or buildings, and panicked callers reporting the rapidly spreading fire and their efforts to escape.

Q: How did emergency dispatchers respond to these distressing calls?

A: Emergency dispatchers offered guidance and reassurance to the callers, advising them on evacuation routes and coordinating assistance from law enforcement and firefighting personnel.

Q: Were there any heart-wrenching moments mentioned in the calls?

A: Yes, there were poignant moments, such as a man reporting his elderly parents trapped in a burning home, where the dispatcher expressed concern about the delay in their call and the man’s father’s last words of love.

Q: What is the significance of these 911 calls being released to the public?

A: The release of these 911 calls provides insight into the intense and chaotic nature of the Lahaina wildfire, shedding light on the challenges faced by residents and first responders during the crisis.

More about Wildfire Emergency

  • Lahaina Wildfire Tragedy: More details on the Lahaina wildfire, its impact, and the aftermath.
  • Emergency Response: Information about emergency services and their crucial role in disasters like wildfires.
  • 911 Calls: An overview of how emergency dispatchers handle distress calls during crises.
  • Wildfire Safety: Tips and guidelines for staying safe during wildfires and evacuations.

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