Live updates: Maui wildfires death toll rises to 93 as officials ask families for DNA samples

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Lahaina survivor describes inferno, harrowing escape

The wildfires that tore through the island of Maui have killed at least 93 people, the county of Maui said late Saturday, making them the deadliest U.S. wildfires in more than 100 years. The death toll is expected to rise. Maui Police Chief John Pelletier called on people with missing loved ones to submit DNA samples to help identify remains, warning that it will take time because some are so badly damaged that they disintegrate when picked up. Some Maui residents have turned to social media to plead for information about their loved ones.

Here’s what to know

  • The death toll in Maui surpassed that of the 2018 Camp Fire in Northern California, previously the deadliest U.S. wildfire of the past century. That blaze killed 85 people and consumed the town of Paradise.
  • Green said at a news conference Saturday that the blaze was the result of a never-before-seen confluence of climate-related conditions and warned that it would take a long time for tourism and the community of West Maui to recover.
  • At least 1,000 people have been reported missing, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) told The Washington Post. She added that at least one person was later found alive at a shelter.
  • Government officials pledged to review the state’s emergency response after residents called relief efforts insufficient and records indicated that emergency sirens weren’t activated at the state or county level during the wildfires. Alerts were sent to cellphones and broadcast networks.
  • Two residents filed a lawsuit seeking class action Saturday against the state’s electric utility, which faces scrutiny for not shutting down power when dangerous winds were predicted.

11:45 AM: Governor says beloved Maui banyan tree ‘damaged’ in fire but may recover

Before and after: Banyan Tree

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green (D) said that a banyan tree that has stood in Lahaina for 150 years was “damaged” by the wildfires, but that efforts to salvage it are underway.

The tree’s recovery would serve as a “sign of hope and recovery for Maui,” Green said in a Facebook video posted late Saturday.

Conservation experts believe the banyan tree is the largest of its kind in the United States.

Live updates: Maui wildfires death toll rises to 93 as officials ask families for DNA samples© Moses Slovatizki/AFP/Getty Images

“Today’s devastation is focused on the loss of life, but this was also part of now six generations of Maui,” Green said in the video, which has been edited. “So, we hope that it will provide some hope for people if the tree can be salvaged,” he added.

In the video, shot near the banyan tree, Green talks with a man in a hard hat who says the tree will “try to generate new growth and buds on the branches” as it recovers from the effects of the fire. Though some of the tree’s branches and leaves are dead, “it’s okay to leave [them] on” because they “act as a little bit of protection,” says the man, who is not identified in the video.

Green then points at part of the tree and says there is “hopefully some life here.”

In a separate video shot by the banyan tree, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said the tree is “deeply damaged, but still standing.”

Hirono said an arborist and his team are working to “determine whether the tree is alive” and “doing everything they can to support it.”

“If we can get this tree to begin to rejuvenate, it gives the rest of us hope,” she added.

Hirono says there should be no excuses for failed sirensUnmute


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Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said there should be no excuses for the fact that warning sirens on Maui did not sound amid the tragic fires.

“I’m not going to make any excuses for this tragedy, but the attorney general has launched a review of what happened with those sirens and some of the other actions that were taken,” Hirono told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday morning.

Hirono said that while there will “be time enough” “for those kinds of reviews and investigations to occur,” currently the main goal is search and rescue.

The senator said she has visited rescue centers, including one with some 400 residents sleeping on cots, and noted that a main concern of hers now is making sure that survivors are provided with both short-term and long-term housing.

“The scenes of devastation will stay with me,” she said.

Hirono said Lahaina “is an iconic town, and so many people went there because it’s very, very historic.”

It was the seat of the monarchy,” she said, noting that she hopes that the ancient banyan tree will be restored.

Hirono thanked President Biden for declaring an emergency within hours of being asked to do that by Hawaii. The senator said she has met with several federal agency heads, including the FEMA administrator. Cadaver dogs, she said, have been brought to the island to help in recovery.

“We are in a period of mourning and loss as we search for more people who are still unaccounted for,” Hirono said.

Hirono also chastised politicians who continue to deny climate change.

“People don’t realize that acres burned in Hawaii, as in so many other states,” she said. “In terms of the percentage of acreage burned, Hawaii is on a par with other states. There is not enough recognition that we are going to need to combat these kinds of wildfires … which we are seeing more of.”

By: Mariana Alfaro

10:48 AM: Analysis from Kelly Kasulis Cho, Breaking News Reporter/Editor

Rep. Jill N. Tokuda (D-Hawaii) said the public library in Lahaina was destroyed in the wildfire, but offered a symbol of hope: “The wooden sign in front of the library is there, almost untouched,” she said.

Gov. Josh Green said Hawaii intends to put affected “residents into hotels so the hotels themselves can stay open,” as a way to provide shelter while mitigating the economic blow from the fires. The costs will be borne by the state and the federal government, he said during a news conference Saturday.

Hawaiians drop off donations for victims of Maui wildfires

Thousands of residents and visitors have been forced to evacuate to escape the devastating wildfires in Maui that have killed at least 93 people as of Saturday night. Cultural landmarks in Lahaina, at one time the royal capital of Hawaii, are in peril. Hawaii Gov. Josh Green (D) estimated billions of dollars in damage that could exacerbate the state’s housing shortage.

Wondering how you can help? Maui County said late Saturday that people could donate nonperishable food, bottled water and hygiene products at the War Memorial Sports Complex field, off Kanaloa Avenue in Kahului, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. The items most needed include coolers, slippers, underwear, flashlights and generators, the county said.

We’ve also gathered some reputable organizations accepting donations to help those affected by the wildfires:

  • The Office of the Governor of Hawaii directed donors to the Hawaii Community Foundation.
  • Verified fundraisers on GoFundMe are raising money to help residents rebuild and recover.
  • Shoppers in Hawaii can make donations of up to $249 at their nearest Foodland, which is accepting donations at checkout to support the American Red Cross.
  • The Maui Mutual Aid Fund is accepting donations to support Maui families, elderly residents, people with disabilities and those with limited or no insurance.
  • Aloha United Way, a Honolulu-based nonprofit, has created the Maui Relief Fund, which will go directly toward efforts supporting victims of the fires.
  • The Salvation Army’s Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division is accepting donations to provide meals for thousands displaced in Maui emergency shelters.
  • The Maui Food Bank is providing meals for thousands of displaced residents.
  • The Hawaii Restaurant Association is organizing donations and volunteer efforts on Maui and Oahu. You can sign up to join relief efforts on Maui here or fill in forms to help evacuees transported to Oahu here.
  • Animal shelters including the Maui Humane Society and Hawaiian Humane Society are helping injured and displaced animals and assisting in reuniting missing pets with owners.

9:31 AM: Analysis from Kelly Kasulis Cho, Breaking News Reporter/Editor

Visitors in Maui “are leaving in a regular cadence” but are constrained by the number of airplane seats available at any given time, Gov. Josh Green said. He said he doesn’t believe travelers are “impairing anything” related to relief efforts but chided those who tried to visit disaster sites, an act he called “toxic” to those who have suffered.

9:11 AM: Paradise Fire survivors channel their experience to support Hawaii victims

As raging wildfires tore through Maui this week, the scope of the devastation was grimly familiar to Pam Harris and Sandi Knapp Gerhardt. Both survived California’s deadly Paradise Fire in 2018 and are among those with firsthand experience who are reaching out to displaced Hawaiians with advice and support on how to navigate the long road to recovery.

The fires in Lahaina were the first thing Harris saw on the news Wednesday morning. She had to turn it off after 30 minutes because the images of the flame-engulfed Lahaina brought her back to the sight of fire and the sound of exploding propane tanks as the blaze approached her home in 2018.

But by Friday, the 74-year-old Harris, who lives in New York, joined a Facebook message board for wildfire disaster relief in Maui. Tapping her years navigating bureaucracy as a disability analyst, she volunteered to help survivors file paperwork. She understood how time-consuming and energy-depleting the process can be for survivors applying for relief, benefits, insurance, identification and financial records.

“The paperwork, for one thing, takes a certain amount of time,” Harris said. “By the time you end up changing your address, canceling credit cards, doing everything you need to do to resume life, then you have the ability to move on somewhat.”

She says “somewhat” because she and her husband, Dave, are still in the midst of “moving on.” Even now, she said, a glowing orange sunset can trigger feelings of fear or sadness.

“I have learned to live with it, and I cry every day,” Harris said. “The process just takes so long. We’re going on five years and we’re still healing.”

The hard-won lesson she wants to pass to Maui residents: “Develop as much patience as you possibly can.”

Like Harris, Gerhardt, 55, understands the toll and offered the kind of advice she wishes she had when her family’s home was destroyed: Don’t wait to find new place to live, even if you plan to rebuild; build up patience for the long process of insurance reimbursement; understand that your perspective and life will never be the same; don’t neglect your mental or spiritual health.

Rest and gratitude can help survivors avoid getting mired in the “deep, dark place thinking about what you’ve lost,” she said.

“With fire, it’s so final. Everything is reduced to ashes,” Gerhardt said.

Gerhardt eventually moved back to Paradise and rebuilt, as many in Maui have pledged to do. Other survivors who belong to her church in Paradise are gathering gift cards for residents connected to her relatives in Maui.

As communication lines are restored, Harris and Gerhardt hope to connect with more Maui residents through the Maui Fire, Flood and Disaster relief group and find, if nothing else, support and understanding.

“People on the outside will think ‘gosh aren’t you over it yet?’” Gerhardt said. “You never get over it. But with time, you heal and you move forward.”

“We have all sorts of friends who chose to stay and become very resilient, and others who said ‘I will never step foot on that mountain again.’”

By: Kim Bellware

8:53 AM: Analysis from Lyric Li

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said Saturday on social media that the 30-day minimum rental period requirement for short-term vacation rentals on Oahu, the state capital, has been suspended to open up more emergency housing for Maui evacuees. Earlier this week, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said hotel rooms and Airbnb venues would be used to house the displaced.

8:27 AM: How the Maui fires compare with some of the deadliest U.S. wildfires

Live updates: Maui wildfires death toll rises to 93 as officials ask families for DNA samples© The Washington Post

The blaze in Maui is the deadliest wildfire in over 100 years, after the 2018 Camp Fire in Northern California that killed 85 people and consumed the town of Paradise.

The size of the Maui fire is a small fraction of the sprawling Camp fire, which burned over 150,000 acres. But its speed and locale made it especially deadly.

Read the full story

By: Alyssa Fowers

8:05 AM: Analysis from Kyle Rempfer

The fires moved incredibly fast and low to the ground, feeding on grass as it jumped from building to building, FEMA fire administrator Lori Moore-Merrell said at the news conference.

“That outpaced anything the firefighters could have done in the early hours,” she said. “With that, I can tell you that the firefighters need to be commended. Heroic actions. Absolutely.”

7:43 AM: Hawaii’s governor links wildfires to climate change

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said that although the state has been through wildfires in the past, the deadly Maui blaze was the result of a never-before-seen confluence of climate conditions.

“We’ve been experiencing wildfires for decades here. … But this is the first time we’ve ever experienced a wildfire in the context of these dry conditions, global warming, and with the hurricane that is just passing us,” he said at a news conference Saturday afternoon.

“The consequence of global warming and storm change is changing things, but we’ve never had anything like this near a city,” Green said.

The governor said one of Hawaii’s “basic problems” is water management. “We’ve had a great deal of difficulty having adequate water near structures and keeping land moist. It’s extremely difficult these days, that’s one of the main reasons that we saw this fire,” he said.

Green said another factor was addressing the environmental risks involved in land management. “It’s a very complicated balance between having enough housing for our people, having enough safe spaces, having open spaces,” he said.

“This has never happened before,” Green said. “We do have a well-prepared fire team across the state. Whether or not we can do better will be determined. There is no question this catastrophe is going to change the way everyone looks at fires across the globe.”

By: Lyric Li

7:21 AM: Aerial videos show damage in three Maui districts after wildfires

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By: Naomi Schanen

6:59 AM: As death toll climbs, Maui residents turn to social media to find loved ones

As the death toll from the Maui wildfires rose to 93, and with only two of those victims identified late Saturday, desperate residents of the island turned to the internet for information on their loved ones’ whereabouts.

On Facebook, a thread encouraging people to post information about missing people gathered over 1,900 comments between Tuesday and Saturday. Many people shared photos of grandmothers, uncles and daughters whose whereabouts were unknown, pleading for help in locating them.

On Google Docs, a crowdsourced spreadsheet with unverified reports of people missing and found on the island in recent days listed over 2,000 names — many of them marked “found” — as of 10 p.m. Saturday Hawaii time.

Cellphone reception has been patchy in parts of Maui because of the wildfires, and with power down in certain areas in recent days and many people evacuating their homes, it’s possible that some have not had access to phones or plugs to charge them.

It’s not clear how many people have been killed or injured or are missing as a result of the wildfires. Authorities said Saturday they expect the death toll to climb. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) told The Post that at least 1,000 people have been reported missing.

By: Annabelle Timsit and Kelly Kasulis Cho

6:36 AM: Hawaii to launch probe over siren failures during wildfires

Fire damage is seen on Saturday in Lahaina, Hawaii.© Matt McClain/The Washington Post

Hawaiian officials said they will begin a “comprehensive review of critical decision-making” over the state’s emergency response, as records indicated that emergency sirens were not activated at the state or county level during the wildfires.

“My Department is committed to understanding the decisions that were made before and during the wildfires and to sharing with the public the results of this review,” Attorney General Anne Lopez (D) said in a statement.

Gov. Josh Green (D) told CNN that officials would investigate why sirens failed to warn residents in Maui, adding that the telecommunications lines that those sirens relied upon were “destroyed very rapidly” by the fast-moving flames.

Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency confirmed that no sirens were sounded at the state or county level during the fires. The sirens, which are one of four emergency alert systems in Hawaii, are intended to notify people to seek more information about an emergency and are not a warning of evacuation, said Adam Weintraub, a spokesman with the agency.

“There was no intent to sound the sirens based on our activation log,” Weintraub told The Post in a Friday phone interview, adding that “a short circuit or melting from [the] fire” could have caused the sirens’ failure.

While the sirens didn’t work, the other three emergency alert systems — one that interrupts broadcast programming with specific details about an emergency and an action plan, another that sends emergency banners to cellphones and a third consisting of opt-in emergency text messages — were activated at some point, Weintraub said.

Many residents report not getting those alerts because power and cell service was already out.

By: Lyric Li

6:14 AM: Video: Scenes from the ground show a decimated Lahaina

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By: Zoeann Murphy

5:52 AM: Governor says many of the homes affected were uninsured

Most of the structures destroyed or damaged by the Maui fires were residential — and many of them were never insured, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green (D) said at a Saturday news conference.

“One of the challenges we have in real communities, not just on Maui but also on some bigger islands, is that a lot of people who built unpermitted small structures on their properties, they aren’t ever insured because they haven’t gone through the permitting process,” Green said.

An insurance commissioner will be working on Maui with his team starting Tuesday to ensure speedy compensation for insured fire victims, Green said.

Thousands of migrants from Pacific island countries live and work in Hawaii through a series of treaties signed with the United States, collectively known as the Compacts of Free Association (COFA). Many of them live with extended family in structures with limited or no insurance coverage, according to the Hawaii’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

“The benefits that we can give people mostly come through insurance and then through FEMA,” he said. “Those who don’t have any other benefits, the state does intend to be extremely generous, and that means for all people that have been part of our ‘ohana,’” which roughly translates to “family.”

“Individuals that come that are considered COFA, individuals that have been working on our farms and in our communities, Hawaii is going to be a state that takes care of all of its people,” he said. “So we will find ways to shelter individuals. As you know, homelessness and houses are our top priority right now.”

By: Lyric Li

5:29 AM: Maui police chief asks people with missing family to provide DNA, pleads for patience

The Washington Post

Maui Police Chief asks for patience in victim identificationUnmute

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier described the grisly and time-consuming process required to identify victims and pleaded for the public’s patience.

“The remains we are finding are through a fire that melted metal. You have to do rapid DNA to identify them,” he said Saturday afternoon at a news conference. “Every one of these [victims] are John and Jane Does.”

He also urged those with missing family members to take a DNA test, saying: “We need you to do the DNA test. We need you to identify your loved ones.”

Pelletier said that the remains often disintegrate when they are picked up and warned that those trying to get into affected areas could be stepping on them.

“We know we have got to go quick, but we have got to do it right,” he said, adding that it will also take time to notify families once victims are identified.

“I understand the pain this is going to take,” Pelletier said.

By: Kelly Kasulis Cho

5:07 AM: Maui wildfires aren’t completely extinguished, county says

Firefighters were still working late Saturday to extinguish flare-ups from the Maui wildfires in two locations, the county said.

The flare-ups were affecting Lahaina and Upcountry Maui, the county said, adding that 19 structures were destroyed around Upcountry Maui — three in Olinda and 16 in Kula.

In a third location, around Pulehu and Kīhei in southern Maui, the fire “was declared 100 percent contained Saturday,” the county said.

“Containment indicates what percentage of the fire perimeter has been enclosed by a control line and reflects opportunities for the fire to spread beyond its original border into new areas,” it said.

According to the U.S. National Park Service, a flare-up is “any sudden acceleration of fire spread or intensification of a fire.” Wildfire flare-ups don’t last as long and are not as destructive as blowups — when a fire suddenly becomes more intense or begins to spread more quickly, forcing firefighters to change their plans to control the fire.

Flare-ups do not “radically change control plans,” according to the NPS.

A 1-acre fire reported Friday evening in Kaanapali, north of Lahaina and above the Puukolii Reservoir, was also extinguished, the county said.

By: Annabelle Timsit

4:41 AM: Analysis from Annabelle Timsit, Breaking news reporter focusing on U.S. and global events

Maui county said the wildfires have claimed at least 93 lives — the second time Saturday evening that Maui authorities increased the death toll from the blaze. Two of the victims have been identified, but the identities of the rest remain unknown, the county said.

4:35 AM: It will be ‘a very long time’ before Maui tourism recovers, governor says

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green (D) warned that “it’s going to be a very long time” before tourism returns to its normal levels in West Maui, which was closed by authorities after being devastated by wildfires.

“We will rebuild Hawaii together, here and with you, but it’s going to take time,” he said at a news conference Saturday afternoon.

Tourism is Maui’s leading industry, and visitors on nonessential travel have been asked to leave or postpone their itineraries to open up resources for displaced families. Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen stressed that the southern side of the island is still open and pushed back on the idea that the community is in general resistant to tourists.

“Many of our residents make their living off of tourism, number one. Secondly, it’s not the number of tourists that people are upset at. It’s when people are disrespectful … when people don’t show the respect that they are coming to someone’s home,” he said.

“This isn’t Disneyland. … This is where people live and survive and work,” Bissen said. “I don’t think anyone has a problem with visitors. I think they have problems with rude visitors.”

By: Kelly Kasulis Cho

4:33 AM: Maui wildfires eclipse Camp Fire as deadliest in recent U.S. history

A firefighting helicopter prepares to drop water near a home that was destroyed by a wildfire on Friday in Kula, Hawaii.© Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Maui wildfires topped the Camp Fire as the deadliest in the nation’s recent history — more than the 2018 northern California blaze that incinerated towns and scarred the state for years to come.

The development is stunning, given that California has a long history of deadly blazes — battling megafires almost routinely now — and Hawaii does not.

In California, the 17-day fire in Paradise changed everything. The blaze began in northern Butte County, eventually killing at least 85 people, destroying 14,000 residences and charring an area the size of Chicago. It obliterated the town, upended the state’s response to fire threats, ignited heightened scrutiny against the Federal Emergency Management Agency and set off a domino effect of insurance companies reducing coverage in the state — or pulling out entirely.

Maui’s inferno displaced hundreds of residents and damaged more than 2,200 structures. The death toll climbed dramatically, jumping from six confirmed deaths Wednesday morning to 36 by that evening, 53 by Thursday, and eventually reaching 93 — and officials warn the numbers are likely to increase significantly.

While wildfires take place every year on the Hawaiian islands — the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization estimates that 0.5 percent of Hawaii’s total land area burns each year — none has burned so much so quickly.

The disaster’s magnitude stunned the local government as it scrambled to respond — “We expected rain; we expected floods,” Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke (D) said.

Months of drought, coupled with unusually forceful winds, set Maui ablaze and razed much of the historic town of Lahaina.

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