Maui: worst fire disaster in the U.S. in over a century

The New York Times reported today that fatalities resulting from the Maui fires have surpassed that of the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, California, and now mark the deadliest wildfire since the 1918 Cloquet inferno in Minnesota killed hundreds of people.

The island’s fatality count has already hit 93, according to an AP report earlier today, and both locals and experts are pleading with tourists from the U.S. mainland and elsewhere to cancel vacation plans and spare locals and emergency responders the drain on scarce resources. Hotels and other lodging options on Maui are scrambling to shelter eva and the suddenly homeless; well over 45,000 residents and visitors have departed Kahului Airport in West Maui since Wednesday.

Mayor Richard Bissen recorded a public message, and the Maui County website is loaded with additional resources. A Family Assistance Center is open at Kahului Community Center at 275 Uhu Street.

Maui CountyThe Maui Emergency Management Agency can help in locating unaccounted-for family members. People trying to locate loved ones also can call the American Red Cross at 800-733-2767.

“The collective resources and attention of the federal, state, and county government, the West Maui community, and the travel industry must be focused on the recovery of residents who were forced to evacuate their homes and businesses,” announced the Hawaii Tourism Authority today. Visitors are encouraged to change plans and travel to Hawaii’s other islands.

Gov. Josh Green said 500 hotels rooms will be set aside for evacuated locals, and the state is working with AirBNB to make more rentals available for locals. Another 500 hotel rooms will be reserved for FEMA employees; no word on whether interagency IMTs from the U.S. will be able to camp in tents as usual.

Recovery crews with cadaver dogs have covered just under 5 percent of the fires’ search area thus far, according to Maui Police Chief John Pelletier. “We’ve got an area that we have to contain that is at least 5 square miles, and it is full of our loved ones,” he said. He asked residents with missing loved ones to provide DNA samples at a county resource center.

Hawaii News Now reported that Gov. Green said this will certainly be the worst natural disaster Hawaii has ever faced. “I hurt to imagine the fear that went through people when a fire — really a hurricane and a fire — came through all at once,” he said. Their news conference is available online:

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8 thoughts on “Maui: worst fire disaster in the U.S. in over a century”

  1. Great book on Peshtigo: “Firestorm at Peshtigo” by Gess and Lutz. 2002.
    Fire was on October 8, 1871.

  2. FYI the wildfire with the highest loss of life in the US was the 1871 Peshtigo Wisconsin Fire. More than 2,000 died. You don’t hear about it because it occurred at the same time as the Great Chicago Fire.

    1. This story is from a year ago but is an excellent look at the issues of powerlines and burying them. (Note from NIFC in the article: from 1992 to 2020 federal, state, and local fire services dealt with 32,652 powerline-ignited wildfires.)

      Is Burying Power Lines Fire-Prevention Magic, or Magical Thinking?
      With powerlines sparking more wildfires as climate change makes landscapes more flammable and drives a movement to “electrify everything,” a simple solution is gaining acceptance despite the cost.

  3. How much does it cost to bury powerlines ?

    I looked it up this morning. $5000 for 500 feet. I have a feeling it’s more expensive than that, e.g. $100 a foot.

    But heck, even if it was $1000 a foot – the US has 5.5 Million miles of ‘normal’ power lines (the kind that got blown down, to cause several recent deadly fires, including Lahaina.)

    $5.5 Billion max. to bury all the ‘normal’ power lines in the US. Seems like a very obvious thing to do.

    Why the inaction between 2017, when it became obvious during the Sonoma County fires that power lines & wind don’t mix, and 2023 ?

    1. For residential lines from the road to your house, maybe 7 bucks a foot.

      How much would it cost to bury power lines in California?

      Joseph Mitchell, a consultant and utility expert in the San Diego area, estimates burying powerlines costs between $3 million and $5 million per mile – and California utility PG&E has a plan to bury 10,000 miles of its lines in fire-prone areas.

      But “undergrounding” is expensive, which may explain why the California utility managed to bury only 70 miles of lines in 2021. When North Carolina considered burying all its powerlines, the state Utilities Commission reported the venture would take 25 years to complete and cost $41 billion, “nearly six times the net book value of the utilities’ current distribution assets.”

  4. I send all of my prayers and thoughts for comfort, to all of these good people, during a horrific time.


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