The death toll from a wildfire in the historic city of Maui has reached 93, officials warned, and efforts to locate and identify the dead are still in the early stages. The fire is already the deadliest US wildfire in more than a century, with at least 2,200 buildings damaged or destroyed in West Maui, 86% of which were residential. The damage across the island is estimated at around $6 billion, and it would take an “incredible amount of time” to recover.
The number of 89 deaths was later raised to 93, announced at a press conference with Gov. Josh Green. At least two other fires are burning in Maui with no deaths reported so far: in the Kihei area of south Maui and mountainous, inland communities known as upcountry. A fourth fire broke out Friday evening in Kaanapali, a coastal community north of Lahaina, but crews were able to extinguish it.
The upcountry fire affected 544 structures, 96% of which were residential. Emergency managers in Maui were looking for places to stay for those displaced from their homes. County officials on Facebook early Saturday said on Facebook that about 4,500 people needed shelter. He encouraged those whose family members are missing to visit the Family Help Center. Pelletier said, “We need your DNA test. We need to identify your loved ones.”
Those who survived counted their blessings and were grateful to be alive as they mourned those who could not survive. The recently released death toll surpasses the number from the 2018 Camp Fire in Northern California, which killed 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise. A century ago, the Cloquet fire started in drought-stricken northern Minnesota in 1918 and spread to several rural communities, destroying thousands of homes and killing hundreds.
The wildfire is the state’s deadliest natural disaster in decades, surpassing even the 1960 tsunami that killed 61 people. An even more deadly tsunami in 1946, which killed more than 150 people on the Big Island, prompted the development of an area-wide emergency warning system with sirens, which is tested monthly. Authorities sent alerts to mobile phones, television, and radio stations, but widespread power and cellular outages have limited their reach. Wildfires in Maui spread through dry bush covering the island, and US Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell said it moved horizontally, structure by structure, and progressed incredibly fast.
A severe fire broke out in Lahaina, destroying almost every building in the town of 13,000. Maui water officials warned residents not to drink running water, which can be contaminated even after boiling, and to use only briefly lukewarm water in well-ventilated rooms to avoid potential chemical vapour exposure.
Maui’s firefighting efforts may be hampered by limited staff and equipment, with up to 65 county firefighters working at any given time. Officials will review policies and procedures to improve security, as the world has changed, and a storm can now be a storm-fire or a fire-storm. Lahaina resident Riley Curran doubts county officials could have done more, as the fire went from zero to 100.
On Saturday, over a dozen people formed an assembly line at Kaanapali Beach, unloading water, toiletries, batteries, and other essentials from a catamaran that arrived from another part of Maui. David Taylor, director of marketing for Kai Kanani Sailing, said many of the supplies were for hotel workers who had lost their homes and were living with their families at their workplaces. “Aloha still exists,” he said to applause as the group finished unloading the boat. Caitlin McKnight, who volunteered at an emergency shelter on the island’s war memorial, said she tried to be strong for those who lost everything.