The death toll from the devastating fire in Lahaina, Maui, reached 89 on Saturday, making it the deadliest wildfire in the United States in over a century. The toll is expected to rise as authorities continue their search. Chief John Pelletier of the Maui County Police Department stated that only 3 percent of the burned areas had been searched by canine teams. He urged those with missing family members to provide DNA samples for identification purposes. Additional cadaver dogs were being deployed to assist in the search efforts.
The death toll has now surpassed that of the 2018 Camp Fire in California and marked the deadliest wildfire since a fire in northeast Minnesota in 1918. Although the fires in western Maui have been extinguished, the area remains far from calm. Authorities have closed off entry to residents hoping to return due to ongoing search operations for possible human remains. Many who fled the area on Tuesday are struggling to find essential supplies such as gasoline and water. A network of volunteers, known as the “Coconut Underground,” has been providing aid to those in need. Some residents have expressed frustration at having to rely on private organizations rather than government agencies for assistance.
Questions have also been raised about whether some loss of life could have been prevented. Residents have questioned why none of the 80 warning sirens around Maui were activated. The sirens, which emit loud noises, are intended to provide information rather than evacuation orders. Other alert systems, such as cellphone alerts and radio and television announcements, were activated, but power outages in Lahaina prevented many residents from receiving the warnings. The cause of the fire has not been determined, but experts suggest that fallen power lines in high winds may have ignited the blaze.
There is growing scrutiny over Hawaiian Electric, the state’s largest utility, and its wildfire prevention efforts. The company made wildfire prevention its lowest priority in a regulatory filing earlier this year. Despite the increasing frequency of wildfires in Maui, no power cuts have been implemented to reduce the risk. Hawaiian Electric argues that cutting the power would also affect the operation of pumps supplying water to fire hydrants. The emergency response to the fire is now under review, and a comprehensive examination of the decisions made before and after the fires will be conducted.
As residents return to Lahaina, they face the daunting task of sifting through the rubble of their homes to salvage any remaining belongings. FEMA estimates that the cost to rebuild after the Lahaina fire will be around $5.52 billion. More than 2,200 structures, including nearly 1,500 residential properties, were damaged or destroyed, and over 2,100 acres were burned. Meanwhile, thousands of households are still without power, and residents have been advised not to drink the tap water due to possible contamination.
While search crews continue to find remains in the devastated neighborhoods of Lahaina, there is a sense that Maui is still at risk. A fire flared up in the Kaanapali area on Friday night, dangerously close to a fueling station. Although the fire was contained, fuel distribution was temporarily suspended. Residents in surrounding areas, such as Napili and Kapalua, continue to be without power, leaving evacuees from Lahaina stranded without gas for their cars. As stories of escape emerge, residents are left hoping to hear good news about their missing loved ones. The community is pulling together, with an outpouring of local support, but many are questioning why more wasn’t done to prevent the tragedy.