Title: Chaos During Maui Wildfires as Residents Struggle to Escape Blocked Roads

A Hawaiian Electric crew blocks a roadway as they try to clear a downed powerline in the Lahaina/Maui area of Hawaii on Aug. 8, 2023.

By Alicia Victoria Lozano, Phil McCausland, and Corky Siemaszko

LAHAINA, Hawaii — In the aftermath of the devastating Maui wildfires, survivors recount harrowing experiences as they attempted to flee the inferno, only to find their main escape route partially blocked by Hawaiian Electric trucks working to clear downed lines and replace damaged power poles.

Three survivors shared their stories on Wednesday, describing how the presence of utility trucks hindered their evacuation efforts and led to intense traffic congestion. Cole Millington, a 26-year-old resident, expressed frustration at the situation, stating, “There were no police officers in sight. What there was were Hawaiian Electric trucks coming in with new telephone poles. Instead of waiting for everybody to get out, they were blocking the only way out with their big trucks.”

Title: Chaos During Maui Wildfires as Residents Struggle to Escape Blocked Roads

Millington and Caitlin Carroll, 27, both recounted that when they attempted to flee Lahaina on August 8 around 4 p.m., Hawaiian Electric workers were already on the scene clearing downed power lines and electrical wires from the Honoapiilani Highway. While they acknowledged the necessity of this action, they were baffled by the decision to simultaneously replace power poles while residents were trying to evacuate. “We were like, get the f— off the road and let us get by,” Millington said.

Amid the chaos, drivers were reportedly yelling at the utility crews to move out of the way. Carroll recalled that some drivers even offered to assist the crews in clearing the downed poles, but their offers were declined. She stressed the illogical nature of the situation, with trucks obstructing escape lanes and crews focused on pole replacement as the fire raged on.

Amanda Cassidy, 33, another resident of Lahaina, shared a similar account of encountering roadblocks as she and her boyfriend attempted to flee their neighborhood. She witnessed police blocking roads while utility crews were working on downed lines. Cassidy’s video footage showed her making a desperate left turn into oncoming traffic due to the standstill caused by roadblocks as flames approached. She criticized the utility’s actions, stating, “That is our lifeline, our escape route, and you cut us off from it? There was no other way out.”

Title: Chaos During Maui Wildfires as Residents Struggle to Escape Blocked Roads

Cassidy, a survivor of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, lamented the lack of precautions taken, pointing out unsecured above-ground power lines and unchecked dry vegetation that contributed to the disaster. She estimated being just 20 minutes ahead of those forced to abandon their vehicles and seek refuge in the ocean.

Hawaiian Electric, facing growing scrutiny, was hit with a lawsuit alleging negligence and failure to implement plans for shutting down power systems in anticipation of strong winds. This marked the fourth lawsuit against the company in connection with the wildfires. Hawaiian Electric refrained from commenting on the lawsuits, emphasizing their focus on power restoration and the ongoing investigation into the fire’s cause.

Title: Chaos During Maui Wildfires as Residents Struggle to Escape Blocked Roads

As investigations continue to determine the fire’s origin, which resulted in over 110 fatalities and extensive damage, it was revealed that the state’s emergency warning sirens had not been activated to alert residents. Residents like Millington were left to rely on their own observations to realize the severity of the situation. Millington, who lost his home and business, recalled noticing a plume of black smoke from his bedroom and hurriedly evacuating with his roommates.

Despite the challenges faced during the evacuation, residents are determined to shed light on the issues they encountered, hoping to prevent such situations in the future.

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