What to know about the wildfires
- The death toll rose to 93 early Sunday, Maui County said in an update.
- The number of deaths means the fire, which devastated the town of Lahaina, is the deadliest wildfire in modern U.S. history, surpassing the 2018 Camp Fire in California, which killed 85.
- Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said the damage was estimated at close to $6 billion. He said the fires were likely to be the largest natural disaster in the state’s history.
- Three law firms filed a class-action suit Saturday against Hawaiian Electric, alleging that the destruction "could have been avoided" had the utility company de-energized its power lines ahead of the high-wind weather.
- NBC News' Miguel Almaguer, Dana Griffin and Steve Patterson are reporting from Maui.
The death toll in the wildfires rose to 93, Maui County officials said, as recovery teams continued their sweep of charred neighborhoods. Two had been identified but their names were not released.
The county also reported that the 678-acre Upcountry/Kula Fire was 60% contained, the 2,170-acre Lahaina fire was at 85%; and the Pulehu/Kihei fire was fully contained.
Hawaiian Electric said power had been restored to 60% of customers who had been without since Tuesday, as crews continued working to get about 5,000 other customers back online.
Essential service providers — a market and two gas stations — reopened in Lahaina, and free shuttles were being offered from shelters to stores in the area.
Gov. Josh Green said state officials were investigating whether anything more could have been done to activate sirens early enough to warn residents about wildfires.
He also noted that the fires were likely to be the largest natural disaster in Hawaii’s history and that damages could be close to $6 billion.
In evening update after he returned to Honolulu, Green said emergency housing would include more than 500 hotels rooms for survivors, and still more rooms for first responders. Airbnbs will be used, and “there ultimately will be rent subsidies,” he said.
Oprah Winfrey was allowed inside a shelter to comfort fire victims after she agreed to have her camera crew remain outside.
The famed banyan tree in the heart of Old Lahaina was still standing and county officials said it may survive.
Hawaii governor focuses on housing
In an update Sunday, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green emphasized the need for housing for survivors, evacuees, and first responders and other workers in Maui to search, recover, and rebuild.
His address came via a video recorded at his office desk following his return to Honolulu from Maui.
Green said the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have pledged to help clear and rebuild historic Lahaina and other fire-ravaged areas.
Emergency housing will include more than 500 hotels rooms for survivors, and even more rooms for first responders, he said. The "Airbnb-industry" will provide short-term rentals for longer time frames for local workers, whose housing costs may be supplemented by the government, the governor said.
"There ultimately will be rent subsidies," he said.
Evacuees get free shuttles to stores, and a Lahaina market reopens
Evacuees of Maui's historic fires are being offered free shuttles to stores in Central Maui under a service that launched Sunday, Maui County officials said.
The 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. shuttle takes those in Central Maui shelters to stores in the area, the county said in a statement.
The news came as county officials also noted Napili Market in Lahaina has reopened with 24-hour access for consumers.
Also, two Lahaina gas stations Minit Stop and Kahana Gateway Shell, have also reopened with the help of the restoration of electricity lines, the county said.
The county also reported that the 678-acre Upcountry/Kula Fire was 60% contained on Sunday; the 2,170-acre Lahaina fire, initially said to be 100% contained on Aug. 8, was on Sunday 85% contained; and the Pulehu/Kihei fire, no acreage given, was fully contained.
FEMA chief updates Biden on Maui developments
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell briefed Biden tonight from Maui, according to the White House, which did not release details. He was also briefed this morning, the White House said.
U.S. Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell, also speaking in Maui, echoed Hawaii’s governor in saying the fires, the deadliest in modern U.S. history, were all but unstoppable.
"This fire was very fast, moving in horizontal nature, low to the ground and outpaced anything the firefighters could have done in the early hours," she said. "The heroic actions of the firefighters in response to this wildfire in Maui needs to be commended. FEMA is on the ground and will continue to support Hawaii throughout the response and recovery process, ensuring resilience is part of that plan.”
Power restored for 60% of customers, utility reports
Hawaiian Electric said today that it had restored power to 60% of customers who have been without since Tuesday.
Efforts to get electricity back to 5,000 other customers in West Maui and Upcountry were continuing, the utility said.
Because of damage to the system at the distribution and substation levels, the company said, the system is still fragile, and intermittent outages may continue. All Maui customers were asked to limit nonessential uses.
Lahaina survivor: 'The phones are ringing in the body bags. People are still looking for their families'
A Lahaina resident said cellphones are ringing in body bags as survivors desperately look for their missing family members.
Pointing to structures that belonged to his aunt and uncle, Charlie, 55, who has lived in Lahaina his whole life, said, “So, I know every family that lost their home.”
The fire moved quickly though the area, leaving it looking "like a war zone," Charlie said.
Oprah Winfrey allowed to visit emergency shelter without camera crew
Oprah Winfrey was initially denied access to an emergency shelter in Maui today, but she did visit with fire victims after agreeing to leave her camera crew outside, Maui County said today.
The county invited Winfrey to continue to lift up the community’s spirit and said it appreciated her for understanding its policy “of no camera crews or reporters” in emergency shelters.
"Her visit inside of the shelter today was truly heartwarming," the county's Instagram said.
FEMA urges residents to register for federal assistance
FEMA is encouraging Maui County residents to register for federal assistance by visiting DisasterAssistance.gov, using the FEMA App, calling 1-800-621-3362 or visiting in person with FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance staff members.
Residents who use relay services, such as video relay or captioned telephone service, can give FEMA operators the numbers for those services.
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson speaks out on wildfires
Hawaiian Electric lays out protocol for high winds
Hawaiian Electric laid out the protocol it abides by when high winds are expected in a statement.
The company "serves 95 percent of Hawaii’s 1.4 million residents on the islands of Oahu, Maui, Hawaii, Lanai and Molokai," according to its website.
Part of the protocol is "not enabling the automatic reclosure of circuits that may open during a weather event," which "was done before the onset of high winds last week," the utility company said.
The company said it does not have a formal power shutoff program.
"Preemptive, short-notice power shutoffs have to be coordinated with first responders and in Lahaina, electricity powers the pumps that provide the water needed for firefighting," the statement read. "Notifications also need to be made to customers with special medical needs who use specialized equipment."
As of this morning, 4,518 utility customers did not have power, according to Poweroutage.us.
"Our focus remains on supporting first responders, helping our customers and employees, and restoring power as soon as possible," the company said.
Unclear how morgues will accommodate number of victims
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it has been spray-painting cars and buildings on Front Street with an “X” to indicate they had received initial checks but that human remains could still be inside. When crews complete another pass-through, they will add the letters “HR” if they find remains.
As the death toll rises, it’s unclear how morgues will accommodate the number of victims, considering there are just one hospital and three mortuaries.
‘Lahaina needs help’: Residents say government has blocked roads leading to Lahaina, stopping aid
Local residents say government agencies have blocked roads leading to the Lahaina, preventing aid and donations from getting to the devastated area.
Cassidy and Alexa Kailieha, of Oahu, said they have family in Lahaina who lost everything and don't have access to food.
“They’re just standing there blocking the road. They haven’t passed out one simple water bottle, a plate of lunch, nothing,” Alexa said tearfully about local agencies in Lahaina. “They’re just standing there and letting our families starve and not letting us help them."
The Kailiehas said they know of at least six families whose homes burned down in Lahaina.
“A lot of people didn’t make it, you know, like everybody’s house burned down, everything burned down,” Cassidy said in tears.
Their family can’t leave Lahaina because they don’t have gas, they said. If they leave, they won’t be able to go back because of road closures enforced by the government.
Meanwhile, tourists are being allowed into Lahaina and their hotel rooms to collect their stuff, they said.
“This is just them putting them first again,” Alexa said.
They're urging the government to open the road to Lahaina.
“I want to say to [Maui Mayor Richard] Bissen and Gov. Josh Greene: Open the road, open the road. Lahaina needs help, Lahaina needs food, Lahaina needs water,” Cassidy said tearfully.
Coast Guard has saved 17 lives so far, FEMA says
The Coast Guard had saved 17 people in search-and-rescue missions around Lahaina as of last night, FEMA said yesterday on X, previously known as Twitter.
Seventeen people were found in the water, and 40 more were found and helped on shore.
With buildings and shelter burning at a rapid rate, many have taken to the water to escape the fires but have faced rough seas, heavy smoke and poor visibility.
Los Angeles County Fire Department sending canine teams to Maui
Two canine search teams from Los Angeles County are expected to leave for Maui this morning to assist with recovery efforts.
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Anthony C. Marrone said the department was sending its strength and support to Hawaii as two of its dogs, department paramedics and a fire captain prepared to leave for Maui.
"The LACoFD sends our heartfelt condolences and prayers to the families who have lost loved ones; to the injured; and to all who have been displaced, lost homes, and businesses due to the wildfires that have ravaged the beautiful island of Maui," Marrone said.
CORRECTION (Aug. 13, 2023, 6:15 p.m. ET): A previous version of this post misstated which agency is sending canine units to Maui. It is the Los Angeles County Fire Department, not the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Class-action filed against Hawaiian Electric
Three law firms filed a class-action suit yesterday against Hawaiian Electric, alleging that the destruction "could have been avoided" if the utility company had de-energized its power lines before the high-wind weather.
Officials have not identified the source of the wildfire, though Hawaii Gov. Josh Green noted that dry conditions followed by hurricane-level winds contributed to the spread.
The suit, filed on behalf of the wildfire victims, alleges that a downed power line had been reported Tuesday at a Hawaiian Electric power substation. The area is also near the site of an "initial three-acre fire" that day, the suit said.
Jim Kelly, a spokesperson for Hawaiian Electric, said the company does not comment on pending litigation.
“Our immediate focus is on supporting emergency response efforts on Maui and restoring power for our customers and communities as quickly as possible," Kelly said in a statement. "At this early stage, the cause of the fire has not been determined and we will work with the state and county as they conduct their review.”
CORRECTION (Aug. 13, 2023, 6:15 p.m. ET): A previous version of this post misstated the power company’s name. It is Hawaiian Electric, not Hawaii Electric.
Food, water, clothing and Wi-Fi offered to displaced Maui residents
Emergency efforts to get essentials to displaced Hawaii residents are underway across the island.
In addition to food and clothing, the Lahaina Gateway Center has a tanker of potable water as a water advisory remains in place for Upper Kula and Lahaina.
"West Maui residents have requested coolers, slippers, underwear, flashlights and generators," the county said in a news release.
Donated Wi-Fi trucks where people can also charge their devices will be at Napili Park and Honokowai Park free of charge.
Volunteers opened a Department of Motor Vehicles office to help reissue driver's licenses and state identification cards to roughly 180 people staying in emergency evacuation centers. The fees were waived, and evacuees were taken to the office free of charge on Transportation Department buses.
Sen. Hirono: 'We are in a period of mourning and loss.'
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said today on CNN’s “State of the Union” that she walked through Lahaina with the Federal Emergency Management Agency yesterday to see the extent of the loss firsthand.
Hirono said that as she walked through the destroyed town, she passed a line of charred cars by the ocean where it was clear the occupants had fled quickly — most likely into the water.
“We are in a period of mourning and loss,” Hirono said.
She said the attorney general had launched a review into why no warning sirens alerted people to the danger and allowed them to flee before wildfires quickly consumed the town.
Hirono said the tragedy showed that Hawaii has just as much of a wildfire threat as Western states and that more attention needs to be paid to wildfire prevention on the island.
“There is not enough recognition that we are going to have to combat these kinds of wildfires,” she said.
Officials investigating why sirens failed, Gov. Green says
state officials are investigating whether anything more could have been done to activate sirens early enough to warn residents about wildfires, Gov. Josh Green told MSNBC's Jonathan Capehart today.
Speaking from experience as an emergency room doctor, Green said it's nearly "impossible" to know what could have been done better in the "throes in the acute part of a disaster."
"We'll know soon whether or not they did enough to get those sirens going," Green said. "But there was massive destruction of telecommunications. Otherwise, we ourselves would have communicated with each other like we always do within seconds on our cellphones."
Asked whether President Joe Biden will visit Hawaii, Green said he believes Biden will if necessary. He also noted that Biden travels with a large team, which would cause complications at the hazardous sites affected by the fire.
"When you see the structures, it was a 1,000-degree heat creating fire cyclones going through buildings," Green said. "I'll just be graphic ... when we tried to lift and embrace to those that we've lost, there's nothing there, practically. And it means that it's such a delicate scene as a result of the natural disaster."
Aloha Tower to be illuminated in Maui colors
Aloha Tower will be illuminated in Maui's official color, pink, in a show of mourning for those lost in the wildfires, the state Transportation Department announced.
Gov. Josh Green ordered the national and state flags to be lowered half-staff across the state Thursday, the transportatio authority said on X, the social media app formerly known as Twitter.
Built in 1926 as a lighthouse, Aloha Tower welcomed thousands of immigrants to Honolulu, as the Statue of Liberty did in New York, until it was retired in the 1960s.
At 184 feet, it was once the tallest structure in the state's capital, until the midcentury expansion of corporate and tourist development brought high-rise hotels to the surrounding area.
2 people identified among 93 dead
At least two of the 93 people killed in the fire have been identified, said Maui County officials, who did not disclose their names.
Identifying those who died is only the first step in what is likely to be a long process. Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said yesterday that only 3% of the search and recovery area had been covered so far.
Human remains are also found in a delicate condition, Pelletier told reporters.
"When we pick up the remains and they fall apart — so we have 200 people running through the scene yesterday, and some of you, that’s what you’re stepping on,” Pelletier said. “I don't know how else you'd like me to describe it. ... Give us a little bit of time."
Photo: Volunteers unload supplies for West Maui towns
Lahaina residents worry a rebuilt town could slip into the hands of affluent outsiders
A chronic housing shortage and an influx of second-home buyers and wealthy transplants were displacing residents in Lahaina before the fire, and now some are concerned that any homes rebuilt there will be targeted at affluent outsiders.
“I’m more concerned of big land developers coming in and seeing this charred land as an opportunity to rebuild,” Richy Palalay said yesterday at a shelter for evacuees.
Sterling Higa, the executive director of Housing Hawaii’s Future, a nonprofit organization that advocates for more housing in Hawaii, said the town is host to many houses that have been in the hands of local families for generations. But it’s also been subject to gentrification, he said, and a modest starter home two decades ago now sells for $1 million.
“So a lot of more recent arrivals — typically from the American mainland who have more money and can buy homes at a higher price — were to some extent displacing local families in Lahaina,” Higa said.
Beloved banyan tree scorched but remains standing
A large banyan tree in the heart of Old Lahaina was badly scorched by fire, but it remains standing and may survive, county officials said Saturday.
Environmental workers told Gov. Josh Green in a video posted to X (formerly Twitter) that dead branches and foliage on the tree could act as protection and shade as it tries to generate new buds and life.
Video and photographs showed that while buildings surrounding the sprawling tree — which stands at more than 60 feet and is anchored by multiple trunks spanning an acre — were destroyed by fire, wooden benches in its shade survived.
For 150 years, the colossal tree has shaded community events, including art fairs, shading townsfolk and tourists alike from the Hawaiian sun. Planted in 1873, it was a gift shipped from India to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lahaina, a quarter-century before the Hawaiian Islands became a U.S. territory.
Hundreds without power on Maui
A total of 4,509 utility customers did not have power on Maui this morning, according to Poweroutage.us. It’s not clear how many live in Lahaina.
Maui County said in an update that power was being restored in some areas that had allowed a few gas stations to reopen.
Battle against flare ups goes on for firefighters
Firefighting crews continue to extinguish flare-ups in the Lahaina and Upcountry Maui fires, officials said early Sunday.
Three structures in Olinda and 16 in Kula were destroyed in the Upcountry Maui fire, Maui County said in an update.
The update said the Pulehu/Kīhei fire was declared 100% contained yesterday, indicating “what percentage of the fire perimeter has been enclosed by a control line” and reflecting “opportunities for the fire to spread beyond its original border into new areas.”
Unsafe water advisory remains in effect for Lahaina and Upper Kula
Residents in Lahaina and the largely rural area of Upper Kula have been advised that tap water remains unsafe and they should not drink or boil it.
The Department of Water Supply said in a statement issued by Maui County that an unsafe water notice remained out of an “abundance of caution” pending testing in those areas.
County officials warned earlier that contaminants, including benzene and other volatile organic chemicals, might have entered the Lahaina water system and that fire had destroyed some water structures.
Death toll climbs to 93
The death toll has increased to 93, Maui County said in statement today. Two bodies have been identified, it said.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green warned at a news conference yesterday that search and recovery operations were likely to turn up more remains in the fire-scorched communities in West Maui.
U.S. fire administrator: Collective fires top modern 10 worst
The devastation resulting from a complex of fires on Maui that started Tuesday represents the deadliest U.S. fire in recent years, U.S. Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell said.
“This fire now has become the deadliest in the last 10 years,” she announced at a news conference yesterday convened by Gov. Josh Green.
The Maui complex of fires also represents the deadliest U.S. fire in the last 100 years. California’s Camp Fire in 2018, which killed 85, previously held that title.
Officials warned that the death toll would continue to climb as search and recovery teams planned to cover more ground in coming days.
No IDs yet for the dead, and police chief urges patience
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier braced the public yesterday for more devastation in West Maui because the search, recovery and identification process remains in its earliest stage.
He said at a news conference that no identities for the deceased have been completed in a process that can include rapid DNA testing, dental record comparisons and informing family members.
“Every one of these 89 are John and Jane Does,” Pelletier said, adding that the death toll would increase and that it was unclear where it will end up.
“None of us really knows the size of it yet,” Pelletier said. “You want it fast, or you want it right? We’re going to do it right.”
Governor says winds may have made fires unstoppable
Gov. Josh Green said yesterday that strong midweek winds may have made the fires on Maui unstoppable.
As questions grow about state and local officials’ initial responses to the nascent blazes Tuesday, Green pointed to a culprit hard to tame in any circumstance: trade winds boosted by a high-pressure system.
“The largest force in play that night were 80 mph winds,” Green said at a news conference about the fires and their aftermath. “Fortunately, now those winds have passed.”
Green suggested that the winds’ sudden and insurmountable force would have whipped hungry flames through West Maui regardless of the human reaction. “Having seen that storm, we have doubts that much could have been done with a fast-moving fire like that,” he said.