At least 55 people died on Maui. Residents had little warning before wildfires overtook a town

by Ethan Kim
fokus keyword Maui wildfires

Residents of Maui, who were forced to flee the rapidly advancing flames, some even on foot, have questioned the absence of Hawaii’s renowned emergency warning system as wildfires surged towards their homes. No evidence has been found in Hawaii’s emergency management records to indicate that any warning sirens were sounded prior to the fires that claimed at least 55 lives and obliterated a historic town. Although Hawaii is proud of its extensive outdoor all-hazard public safety warning system, which consists of about 400 sirens across the islands, many survivors from Lahaina reported that they neither heard any sirens nor realized the imminent danger until they saw flames or heard nearby explosions.

Thomas Leonard, a retired 70-year-old mailman, was oblivious to the fire until he detected the smell of smoke. He was forced to abandon his Jeep and take refuge by the sea due to exploding cars. Hours later, firefighters arrived and led him and other survivors to safety.

The emergency warning sirens on Maui were not activated, according to officials; instead, emergency alerts were sent through mobile phones, TVs, and radios. The effectiveness of these alerts remains uncertain, as widespread outages in power and cellular networks may have hindered communication in Lahaina. The fast-moving fire, fueled by a dry summer and strong winds from a passing hurricane, took everyone by surprise, racing across the island, demolishing homes and everything in its path.

The blaze is the deadliest in Hawaii since a tsunami in 1960 and the deadliest U.S. wildfire since California’s Camp Fire in 2018. The mayor of Maui County described the devastation in Lahaina, likening it to the aftermath of a bomb. Maui County’s vulnerability to wildfires had been previously identified, with West Maui communities cited as being particularly at risk.

Firefighting efforts may have been further obstructed by limited resources. The maximum of 65 firefighters in Maui County, equipped with only on-road vehicles, were unable to effectively combat the wind-driven fire, described as akin to fighting a blowtorch.

Despite mandatory evacuation orders, obstacles such as downed power poles added to the chaos during the escape from Lahaina. Residents described harrowing escapes, unsure if their loved ones made it to safety. Airports were crowded with fleeing people, and officials offered assistance to tourists at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu.

President Biden has declared a major disaster on Maui and pledged immediate federal aid. His assurances come as tens of thousands seek to leave the island, and emergency personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been dispatched to help in the response.

Big Big News reporters from various locations contributed to the story, which highlights the climate and environmental coverage supported by several private foundations. The AP is solely accountable for the content.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about fokus keyword Maui wildfires

How many people died in the Maui wildfires?

At least 55 people lost their lives in the devastating wildfires that overtook a town in Maui.

Why were residents of Maui not alerted by the emergency warning system?

Hawaii’s emergency management records showed no indication that warning sirens were triggered. Officials confirmed that instead of sirens, the county used emergency alerts sent to mobile phones, televisions, and radio stations, but their effectiveness remains unclear due to widespread power and cellular outages.

What made the Maui fire so uncontrollable and fast-moving?

The fire was fueled by a dry summer and strong winds from a passing hurricane, which caused it to quickly spread through parched brush, flattening homes and everything in its path. The firefighting efforts were hampered by a small staff and lack of off-road vehicles.

Was there any preparation or awareness regarding wildfire risk in Lahaina, Maui?

Yes, Maui County’s hazard mitigation plan, last updated in 2020, identified Lahaina and other West Maui communities as having frequent wildfire ignitions and a large number of buildings at risk of wildfire damage.

What measures were taken for evacuation and assistance during the wildfire?

Mandatory evacuation orders were in place for Lahaina residents, and tourists in hotels were told to shelter in place. The Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu was turned into an assistance center for visitors, and President Joe Biden declared a major disaster, pledging immediate federal aid.

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GregM August 12, 2023 - 2:37 am

I live on a nearby island, and we were terrified watching it unfold. The whole system failed those people. Needs to be a full investigation, it’s just not right!

Jonny87 August 12, 2023 - 3:09 am

55 lives lost, a town destroyed, and all those firefighters working with limited resources… it’s just a mess. Why weren’t they beter prepared?

Sarah-Lynn August 12, 2023 - 3:34 am

i knew about the danger of wildfires but this? It’s just heartbreking… Our prayers are with all the families affected, and I hope the government will take steps to fix this.

Tina B August 12, 2023 - 3:38 am

My family was in Lahaina last summer, beautiful place. Can’t imagine it all gone now. Where were the warnings? why did people have to die like this?

Mike T August 12, 2023 - 8:59 am

Can’t believe what happened in Maui, those poor people never even heard the sirens. what’s the point of having an emergency system if it doesn’t even work?


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