Maui wildfire death toll reaches 89, deadliest in US in more than 100 years

LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — A A raging forest fire At least 89 people were killed in a picturesque town on the Hawaiian island of Maui this week, officials said Saturday, in what was the worst U.S. wildfire of the last century.

The newly released number surpassed the number 2018 Camp Fire In Northern California, it killed 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise. More than a century ago, the 1918 Cloquet Fire broke out in drought-stricken northern Minnesota and raced through many rural communities, destroying thousands of homes and killing hundreds.

At least two fires are burning on Maui, with no casualties so far: in the Kihei area of ​​South Maui and inland communities known as the Highlands. A fourth erupted Friday evening in Kaanapali, a coastal community in West Maui north of Lahaina, but crews were able to extinguish it, officials said.

The new death toll was taken Saturday after federal emergency workers combed the blaze with axes and cadaver dogs, marking the rubble of homes with a bright orange X for the initial search and HR after finding human remains.

Dogs worked through the rubble, their occasional barking — used to alert their handlers to a possible corpse — echoing across the warm and colorless landscape.

An inferno ripped through the centuries-old town of Lahaina on Maui’s west coast four days ago, burning hundreds of homes and turning the lush, tropical landscape into a moonscape of ash. The state governor predicted that more bodies would be found.

“It’s going to go up,” Gov. Josh Green said Saturday as he looked around the devastation along historic Front Street. “This will certainly be the worst natural disaster Hawaii has ever faced. … We can only wait and support the survivors. Our focus right now is to get people back together if we can, get them homes, get them health care, and then rebuild.

Those who survived counted their blessings and were thankful to be alive as they mourned those who didn’t.

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Retired Fire Chief Jeff Boger and his friend of 35 years, Franklin Trejos, initially stayed behind to help others in Lahaina and save Boger’s home. But as the flames grew closer Tuesday afternoon, they knew they had to get out. Each escaped in their own car. When Bogers didn’t start, he broke a window to get out, then crawled on the floor until a police patrol found him and brought him to the hospital.

Trejos was not so lucky. When Boker returned the next day, he found the bones of his 68-year-old friend in the back seat of his car, lying on top of the remains of Boker’s beloved 3-year-old golden retriever, Sam. Tried to protect.

Trejos, a native of Costa Rica, lived with Boger and his wife, Shannon Weber-Boger, for years, helping with seizures when her husband couldn’t. He filled their lives with love and laughter.

“God took a good man,” Weber-Boger said.

Bill Wyland lives on the island of Oahu, but owns an art gallery Lahaina’s Historic Front StreetHaving burned the hair on the back of his neck, he fled on Tuesday by riding his motorcycle on empty pavements on his Harley Davidson to avoid the busy roads.

Riding into the wind, he estimated at 70 miles per hour (112 kilometers per hour), he passed a man on a bicycle who was trying to save his life.

“It’s something you might see in the Twilight Zone, a horror movie or something,” Wyland said.

Wieland realized how lucky he was when he returned to downtown Lahaina on Thursday.

“It was devastating to see all the burnt cars. There was nothing standing,” he said.

His gallery was also destroyed along with the works of 30 artists.

Emergency managers on Maui were looking for places to house people displaced from their homes. County officials said on Facebook early Saturday that 4,500 people needed shelter, citing figures from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Pacific Disaster Center.

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Flyovers by the Civil Air Patrol counted 1,692 structures destroyed – almost all of them residential. Nine boats sank in Lahaina Harbor, authorities determined using sonar.

The wildfires are the state’s worst natural disaster in decades, surpassing the 1960 tsunami that killed 61 people. Even more dangerous was the 1946 tsunami that killed more than 150 people on the Big Island, prompting the creation of a territory-wide emergency warning system with sirens that are tested monthly.

Hawaii emergency management records do not indicate warning sirens sounded before the fire broke out in the city. Officials sent alerts to cellphones, televisions and radio stations, but widespread power outages and cellular outages may have limited their reach.

A as fuel Dry summer and strong winds from a A passing stormWildfires on Maui ran through the dry brush covering the island.

The most intense fire tore through Lahaina on Tuesday and destroyed every building in the town of 13,000, leaving a grid of gray rubble between the blue ocean and lush green slopes.

Front Street, the heart of historic downtown and Maui’s economic hub, was almost empty of life Saturday morning. Confronted by an Associated Press journalist carrying a laptop and passport in bare feet, he asked where the nearest shelter was. Another, riding a bicycle, took stock of the damage at the harbor, where he said his boat had caught fire and sunk.

Later in the day, search crews fanned out under the hot Maui sun looking for bodies, some with axes and tools to clear debris. The cadaver dogs rested in the water-filled blue kitty pools before going back to work. One dog searched a still standing strip mall, going from business to business, while another walked down the street with its handler.

Maui water officials warned Lahaina and Kula residents not to drink running water, which can be contaminated even when it boils, and to take only short, dull showers in well-ventilated rooms to avoid exposure to chemical vapors.

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According to disaster and risk modeling firm Karen Clark & ​​Company, the wildfires are already projected to be the second costliest disaster in Hawaii’s history behind Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

Maui’s danger is well known. Maui County’s Hazard Reduction Plan, updated in 2020, identified Lahaina and other West Maui communities as being at risk from frequent wildfires and many structures. The report also noted that West Maui has the island’s second-highest proportion of households without a vehicle and the highest proportion of non-English speakers.

“This can limit the population’s ability to receive, understand and take rapid action during risk events,” the plan said.

Maui’s firefighting efforts may have been hampered by limited personnel and equipment.

Hawaii Firefighters Association President Bobby Lee said there are a maximum of 65 district firefighters on duty at any given time, who are responsible for three islands: Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

Riley Curran said she escaped from her Front Street home by climbing onto a neighboring building to get a better look. Given the speed at which the fire was burning, he doubts county officials could have done more.

“It’s not that people aren’t trying to do anything,” Curran said. “The fire went from zero to 100.”

Curran said California has seen wildfires grow.

But, he added, “I’ve never seen a whole city eaten in four hours.”

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Kelleher reported from Honolulu, and Dubui reported from New York. Associated Press writers Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho; Andrew Selsky in Bend, Oregon; Bobby Kaina Galvan in New York; Audrey McAvoy in Wailuku, Hawaii; Ty O’Neill in Lahaina, Hawaii; and Lisa J. Adams Wagner, Evans, Georgia, contributed to this report.

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