Timeline of response to 2023 Lahaina wildfires

First responders showed up within minutes of the first reports to dispatch, on the huge wildfire last summer that nearly destroyed Lahaina, the historic Hawaiian town on the island of Maui. The first emergency calls came in to dispatch at 2:55 p.m. on August 8, according to the new report by the State Attorney General. Firefighters spotted smoke at 2:57 p.m., arrived at the fire at 3:00 p.m., and were joined by law enforcement who said the first building caught fire at 3:05 p.m.
The new report indicated that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has a separate investigation underway into the origin and the cause of the fire.
MAUI fire progression map
Maui fire progression map

According to the REUTERS report, first responders battled a storm of embers sailing downslope ahead of unusually high winds. The fires destroyed most of Lahaina, the former capital of the Hawaiian kingdom, killing over 100 people.

The Associated Press compiled numerous 911 calls that dispatchers on the island received the next day, and the dispatchers’ answers were the same each time; police and fire responders couldn’t help find missing people because they were still trying to get people to safety, still working hotspots and responding to fires.
FSRI Fire Progression Data Map Animation
The New York Times reported that fatalities from the Maui fires surpassed that of even the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, California, and made the Maui fires the deadliest since the Cloquet inferno in Minnesota killed hundreds back in 1918.
The island’s officials were 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, and later encouraged tourists to come back to the island that depends heavily on visitors and tourism dollars. Hotels and other lodging options on Maui scrambled to shelter evacuees and the suddenly homeless; that struggle on the island is far from over.The state attorney general’s office has more maps online.

Remote fire sensors deployed on Hawaiian islands

Fire detection sensors are being set up around Maui and other Hawaiian islands to allow local resources to respond faster when wildfires break out, said Governor Josh Green today.

CNN reports that Maui Mayor Richard Bissen added, “The introduction of an early detection system will give our first responders a critical advantage in protecting our community. With this new technology, detecting fires at the very early phases will save lives.”

According to MauiNow, the remote sensors are en route to Kīhei and Lahaina, and they will use a combination of thermal imaging, gas detection, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms; the wildfire sensors detect concentrations or spikes in particulates or carbon monoxide to identify wildfire ignition — in real time. The sensors transmit data by email or text notifications to pre-set contacts, and the remote units are small enough for installation on utility poles or traffic lights. They can also work in all weather conditions, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“What’s important is we get to the scene as fast as we can, so that we can catch fire in incipient phases,” said Maui Fire Chief Brad Ventura. “Today we share one more tool that’s going to help expedite our responses to our communities.”

About 80 fire sensors are being set up around the islands; the first 20 on Maui are planned for deployment by the first week of April.

These sensors detect heat and also can track anomalies such as airborne smoke particles and gases produced by fires — and can distinguish those from other substances common in the air around Hawai’i — including volcanic ash and ocean salt.

~ Thanks and a tip of the hardhat to Rick for this. 

911 calls: the stranded and missing in Maui’s wildfires

“The flames came back … they’re in the trees and the grass.”

“We slept on the street.”

“We’re dying out here.”

The Associated Press has compiled numerous 911 calls from the barrage that Maui operators received the day after wildfires swept through Lahaina. The operator answers were the same each time; emergency responders weren’t able to help find missing people because they were still trying to get people to safety, still working hotspots and responding to fires.

Maui fires, NASA image
Maui fires, NASA image

The 911 recordings from the morning and early afternoon of August 9, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, were the third batch of calls released by the Maui Police Department in response to a public records request. The recordings demonstrate that dispatchers and first responders were limited by diminished staffing and communications failures.

Some callers ask where their family members are, some report disastrous fire damage, and others plead with dispatch  to tell them where to go to be safe. People were trapped in their homes or hotel rooms, many with no food or water. With each desperate call, operators had relatively the same response: they had no answers.

Read the full story here.


Photos tell story of Maui wildfires’ destruction, aftermath and recovery

It’s been nearly five months since wildfires devastated Lahaina, on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Since then, images of the destruction have captivated the nation.

Honolulu Civil Beat has compiled collections of photos from each month of the aftermath, cataloging the desperation and the assistance that has flooded the area since the wildfires were controlled.

“We have thousands of images in our growing media database, of Lahaina and Upcountry, the victims and the landscape that were left in ash and ruin,” wrote for the Civil Beat. “In the past nearly five months, we’ve photographed numerous community gatherings, resource fairs, public officials in various settings from press conferences to legislative hearings. We’ve picked a smattering that we think represents the story that is continuing to unfold and we’ll publish these galleries at the end of each month.”

See the Maui fires in the photo series here:

Maybe it wasn’t the hurricane that blew up the Maui wildfires

Scientists have introduced a new theory for the cause of the Maui fires in August, and the theory casts doubt on previous assumptions that linked the wildfires to nearby Hurricane Dora. Weather models show the fires were actually blown by the same meteorological phenomenon that’s often behind California’s worst wildfires — a downslope windstorm (see Rattlesnake).

Nearly four months after the Lahaina Fire that devastated Maui — leaving 100 people dead and 6,000 still homeless — scientists have clarified a new theory; according to a report by the Daily Mail, video footage documenting the fire revealed a wind-driven firestorm, but the power outages during the firestorm left scientists uncertain about which factors had caused the fire behavior.

Atmospheric researchers have now simulated the weather and fire trends in western Maui. In Lahaina, the main cause of the fires was a strong high-pressure system north of Hawai’i that intensified the easterly tradewinds, and when those winds ran up against the slopes in West Maui, the speed increased as the winds blew downhill. When they hit Lahaina they’d reached hurricane strength.

Simulations by the University of Nevada-Reno and the State University of New York at Buffalo showed that sustained winds in Lahaina on August 8 were nearly 80 mph with gusts exceeding 90 mph. Studies by the University of Hawaii and the University of Washington simulated similar wind speeds.

Cliff Mass, an atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Washington who simulated the Maui windstorm, said the combination of fuels, strong winds, and ignition sources is a common set-up for destructive wildfires.

“There’s a real story for Californians here because what happened in Maui, what happened in the Marshall Fire, what happened at Paradise … they’re all the same thing,” Mass told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Chronicle reported that videos from Lahaina showed a wind-driven fire, but that because weather stations in the area had lost power during the fire, researchers could not be certain about exactly which factors had  combined to create the firestorm. Many had initially attributed the disaster to Hurricane Dora near the island.

Below is a  forecast vertical cross-section of the situation on the island at about 11 a.m. Hawaii time. Cliff Mass explains that winds are shown by the color shading and arrows.  “The solid lines are potential temperature. An extraordinarily high amplitude wave had formed, with air descending the western side of  the Maui Mountains, accelerating as it plummeted toward Lahaina. At low elevations, the flow abruptly ascended, in a feature often termed a hydraulic jump.”
Cliff Mass illustration -- Maui Mountains
Cliff Mass illustration — Maui Mountains

He said the Lahaina situation involved a wet winter, followed by a dry summer, causing grasses to grow exceptionally in the spring to create a  dense fuel load, ready to burn.

Nearly 6,200 people still struggle to find housing while residents and their beloved Maui town of Lahaina works to rebuild.

~ Thanks and a tip of the hardhat to Jim. 

Lahaina reopens to residents

The heart of the historic town of Lahaina that burned in a deadly August wildfire that killed at least 100 people on the Hawaiian island of Maui is reopening to residents and business owners holding day passes, according to an Associated Press story, and the renewed access marks a big milestone for the victims of the fires. Safely clearing properties and rebuilding will still take a long time, and residents are worried about where on the island the remaining fire debris will be discarded.

Banyan Tree Park, home to a treasured 150-year-old Banyan tree that burned in the fire but is now producing new sprouts, is re-opened, along with the public library, an elementary school, and some restaurants.

Maui air quality map
Maui air quality map

The state Department of Health has confirmed that the ash and dust left by the fire is toxic — and that arsenic is the biggest concern. Arsenic is a heavy metal that adheres to wildfire dust and ash and can be harmful. Samples collected in early November from dozens of sites on the island also showed high levels of lead, commonly used in house paint for buildings constructed before 1978.

The federal EPA is removing risks such as batteries, pesticides, propane tanks, and other hazards and chemicals from local buildings. Residents and property owners can visit their sites after the EPA has cleared them. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is hauling debris to a landfill after property owners grant permission, using lined dumpsters that are then wrapped and sealed before they are dumped at the landfill.

Maui air quality map
Maui air quality map

The EPA and the state health department have installed dozens of air monitors in Lahaina and upcountry Maui, where another fire burned in early August. The FIRE AND SMOKE MAP is online; residents snd visitors are advised to avoid outdoor activity during times of elevated air pollution.