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Maui Hawaii Fire Legal Update

The fire that devastated West Maui started in early August 2023. The verified death toll as of the time of this article is 99, but authorities anticipate that number to grow exponentially. Meanwhile, thousands of houses have been ruined by the brush fire in Lahaina, Maui, and wreckage currently litters Lahaina's historic Front Street, where rescue workers are diligently working to complete the painstaking task of combing through the rubble to identify human remains.

Questions have been raised as to whether more should have been done to manage electrical power as high winds buffeted the island, whether residents in the Lahaina, Maui fire's path should have been warned sooner, and whether better traffic management could have prevented the paralyzing gridlock that funneled many people into a death trap.

So far, officials believe the bush fire that destroyed Lahaina began beneath a downed power line nine hours before it swept through town, rekindling in the afternoon after firefighters proclaimed it controlled.

Despite this, in scores of interviews with survivors, locals from different areas all said that they received no warnings before the fire swept through their neighborhoods. Victims were frantically trying to get away along the shoreline while others were playing on the beaches, oblivious to the danger. Others watched in awe at what was happening, and some travelers who heard the news quickly checked out of their hotels while others checked in.

West Maui Fire Update

Per the latest Maui fire update, rescuers and cadaver dogs have only explored about a fifth of the town of Lahaina. The number of confirmed deaths from the catastrophic wildfires on Maui will continue to climb as the investigation and cleanup efforts continue.

These Lahaina brush fires are being termed the worst natural catastrophe in Hawaii's history as a U.S. state. The state of Hawaii's governor, Josh Green, has acknowledged the extensive history of water conflict on Maui for several years and that the island has struggled to provide enough water to both rural parts and residential areas.

Officials have begun identifying the deceased victims and notifying families as of Tuesday, August 15. In the interim, teams using cadaver dogs have searched some of the impacted areas of Maui's destroyed buildings for survivors. About a million pounds of food have been supplied so far as part of the relief effort for the ongoing fire in Maui.

Governor Josh Green added that, thus far, the total cost of the destruction totals nearly $6 billion and will only get worse as more destruction is discovered.

How Do Wildfires Happen?

The presence of oxygen, heat, and fuel—such as wood, grass, dry brush, or even buildings—contributes to the development of wildfires. When a fire gets going, it quickly grows in size and intensity as it consumes more fuel and draws in more oxygen. When conditions are dry or drought-stricken, flames can spread fast and cover several square miles.

Some of the causes of these fires are manmade, while others are the result of natural disasters. A few of the most prevalent sources of wildfires are listed below:

  • Debris
  • Unattended campfires
  • Fireworks
  • Downed power lines
  • Lightning
  • Cigarette butts
  • Vehicle wrecks
  • Arson

The source of the Hawaii/Lahaina fire is still unclear, although most of Hawaii was under a red flag warning for fire danger when the blaze started. Governor Josh Green's comments on Friday echoed those of wildfire specialists who blame a perfect storm for the fires' ignition and rapid spread.

Hurricane Dora, located thousands of miles south of the Hawaiian islands and moving across the Pacific Ocean, caused the high winds that fueled the fires and contributed to how fast the fires moved across the island, according to the National Weather Service.

Last Wednesday morning, the Central Pacific Cyclone Center upgraded the cyclone to Category 4, which added to the devastation that ripped over Maui, damaging houses and knocking down power lines.

Hawaiian Electric, the power company that runs Maui Electric and provides electricity to 95% of the state, was accused over the weekend of failing to carry out emergency preparations designed to lessen the likelihood of wildfires. Official records claimed that the provider did not turn off power to locations where high winds were already predicted to cause fires.

However, a statement from a company representative with Maui Electric said the company did take precautions in anticipation of the storm. Ongoing investigations will illuminate the truth in time.

Worsening the circumstances of the fire, a spokesperson for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, Adam Weintraub, said on Thursday that there is no record of the warning sirens on Maui being activated. Weintraub claimed that the county instead relied on emergency notifications broadcast over local television, radio, and mobile devices. 

Residents also claimed that many of the fire hydrants had run dry, making it more difficult for firefighters to extinguish the flames. Officials from FEMA have verified that there was a problem with the water delivery to the hydrants.

The Economic Cost of the Lahaina, Maui Fires

Authorities on Saturday estimated that it might cost more than $5.5 billion to rebuild the Hawaiian island of Maui after the catastrophic wildfires that have left dozens dead and thousands more missing.

According to early estimates from the University of Hawaii's Pacific Disaster Center and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the flames were responsible for damaging or destroying at least 2,207 buildings so far. It was estimated that 86% were homes and 9% were businesses. The research institute also estimates that 4,500 locals will need continuous emergency housing indefinitely as the building back efforts begin.

The city of Lahaina has shouldered the worst of the destruction. The Lahaina fire, the largest of the three massive wildfires that broke out on the island last Tuesday, has devastated an estimated 3.39 square kilometers of land and is still burning. Maui County authorities said on Sunday that the blaze in Lahaina was 85% suppressed.

The tourist sector accounts for over 80% of Maui's GDP, as the Maui Economic Development Board reported. Per additional details provided by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the first six months of this year saw 1.49 million visitors to Maui.

As a popular tourist destination, Lahaina was crucial to the economy of what is now a mainly destroyed and abandoned town. Needless to say, Maui will face significant economic challenges for the foreseeable future.

Setbacks in Battling the Maui Brush Fires

Maui firefighter Aina Kohler said the deadly wildfire that surged into Lahaina on the island of Hawaii “looked like armageddon” and was propelled by strong winds. A water shortage also contributed to setbacks in battling Tuesday's fire that ravaged the West Maui town of Lahaina, home to some 12,000 people. Kohler claimed that emergency responders ran out of water in an interview on Monday. She also noted the speed with which reports of the fire were flooding in and added that the fire started because power wires were already down.

Moreover, the Kula fire on the opposite side of the island was using half of the available resources, she claimed. The wind also played a crucial role: after passing to the south of Hawaii, Hurricane Dora, a Category 4 storm, brought strong gusts to the island.

Authorities have yet to pinpoint an official cause for the blaze. That said, Governor Josh Green acknowledged Maui’s struggle in providing water and noted that officials are in the midst of a comprehensive review. Investigations will additionally focus on the failure of warning sirens.

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