Officials say it could take years or longer to repair the damage caused by this week’s wildfires, which devastated parts of Maui, claimed dozens of lives, and destroyed a historic town.
This acknowledgment came as the death toll on Maui was raised to at least 55 people. At a news conference, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green warned that the death toll would rise as rescuers reached parts of the island that had been inaccessible due to the three ongoing fires.
“We are seeing the loss of life,” Green said. “As you know, the number has been rising, and we will continue to see the loss of life.” He described the fires as the “greatest emergency we have seen in decades.”
Maui County Police Chief John Pelletier estimated the number of missing people at approximately 1,000, though he cautioned, “honestly we don’t know.”
“Doesn’t mean that’s how many we have that have passed. I’m not saying that number at all,” he said at Thursday’s news conference.
“But because we can’t contact them, and because they can’t come into the greater valley as quickly or as much as we’d like, because they’re actually in shelter until we get some of those basic things set up, we’re not going to have that number.”
Green stated that hundreds of homes had been destroyed and thousands of people would need to find lodging, including in hotels and with community members.
He urged residents across the state to take in displaced residents from west Maui if they had the space.
Officials painted a picture of total devastation in the historic town of Lahaina, a popular tourist destination and economic hub home to approximately 12,000 people.
According to Maui Fire Chief Brad Ventura, there are still active fires, and due to the current weather pattern, there is a possibility of rapid fire behavior. He stated that people were still advised to avoid the burned areas due to falling telephone poles and other hazards.
Earlier on Thursday, Maui County officials provided more details on the three active fires in the area: the Lahaina, Pulehu, and Upcountry fires.
According to reports, the fire in Lahaina was 80% contained this morning. The Pulehu fire was 70% contained this morning after crews worked overnight to create firebreaks with heavy equipment. And according to officials, the Upcountry fire had an undetermined level of containment.
How the Wildfire Got Started
CBS News reports that most of Hawaii was under a red flag warning for fire risk when blazes broke out this week. However, the precise cause of the wildfires has not yet been determined.
On Tuesday, three fires broke out on Maui, and by nightfall, the blaze had rapidly spread to Lahaina, located on the island’s west coast. Flames engulfed Kula, an Upcountry region of the island’s interior the following day.
Fueled by strong winds and dry conditions, the blazes jumped from the parched brush that covered Maui to homes and businesses, destroying entire neighborhoods.
The death toll from the deadly wildfires raging on Maui has risen to 53 and is expected to rise further. While the exact cause remains to be determined.