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Hawaii attorney general asking third-party organization to assess wildfire response

The announcement came a day after a member of the Hawaii Senate told NBC News that he planned to ask the attorney general to appoint an independent investigator.
Buildings leveled from a fire in Lahaina town Maui, Hawaii, on Aug. 16, 2023
Buildings leveled by a fire in Lahaina, Hawaii, on Wednesday.Josiah Patterson for NBC News

Hawaii's attorney general announced Thursday that she will tap a "third-party private organization" to investigate how state and county agencies handled the monstrous wildfires that ripped across Maui, ravaging communities and killing at least 111 people.

"This will be an impartial, independent review," Attorney General Anne E. Lopez said in a news release announcing the decision. "Having a third-party conduct the review will ensure accountability and transparency and reassure the people of Hawaii that all of the facts will be uncovered.

"The information collected will be used to assess the performance in emergency preparedness as we are constantly looking for ways to improve," Lopez added. "We intend to look at this critical incident to facilitate any necessary corrective action and to advance future emergency preparedness."

Lopez said she intended to hire an organization that has "experience in emergency management and processes to assess the performance of State and County agencies in preparing and responding to the Maui wildfires."

She had already announced that her office would carry out a "comprehensive review of decision-making and standing policies" before and during the wildfires.

A state senator told NBC News on Wednesday that he planned to ask Lopez to appoint a third-party independent investigator. Democratic Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole said he and eight colleagues planned to make the demand in a letter to Lopez.

In a statement that accompanied the attorney general's news release, Keohokalole said that "an independent review will ensure that all aspects of the incident, including any potential shortcomings in preparation, response, and communication, are thoroughly examined."

Officials are investigating the exact causes of the wildfires. Four lawsuits have been filed against the state’s biggest power utility, Hawaiian Electric, arguing in part that it should have shut off electricity before fierce winds swept into the region, and residents have raised questions about the swiftness of the state's response.

Maui County’s emergency management administrator has also faced criticism for the decision not to sound warning sirens. The administrator, Herman Andaya, defended that choice at a news conference Tuesday.