Hawaii AG report details timeline and factors that contributed to deadly Maui wildfires


(HONOLULU) — Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez on Wednesday released the first set of findings from an independent investigation into the deadly wildfires that erupted on the Hawaiian island of Maui last year, the deadliest natural disaster in state history.

At least 101 people died in connection with the wildfires. Much of the historic town of Lahaina was destroyed by the blaze that burned thousands of residential and commercial buildings to the ground. Thousands were left seeking temporary housing and faced unemployment.

According to Lopez’s office, the report analyzes how the fire incidents unfolded and what happened in the aftermath — spanning a 72-hour period.

The report does not address the cause of the wildfires.

The report details the timeline of events that took place on August 8, 2023, from the initial Olinda Fire breaking out at approximately 12:22 a.m. to the first Lahaina fire around 6:34 a.m. and the second Lahaina fire that broke out later that day around 2:55 p.m. and was uncontained and active for more than a week.

Four fires began on August 8, according to the report, including the Kula fire and the Pulehu fire.

High winds and low relative humidity set the stage for the immense scale and scope of the wildfires, according to the report.

Amid the Maui Fire Department’s efforts to combat the wildfires trucks and teams became trapped and entangled by the fire and downed power lines, the report notes.

The Lahaina Bypass, the town’s primary evacuation route, was impacted by the fire, according to the report, with smoke, low visibility and downed lines trapping civilians evacuating.

Local agencies, like the county fire department, and local companies, like Hawaiian Electric, have been under scrutiny for their involvement in fire preparation, wildfire mitigation and the response to the wildfires. However, the many agencies and companies involved have continued to point fingers at one another in the aftermath.

“We must come to a complete understanding of how this disaster started to ensure Hawaii and other states are prepared to prevent and stop other deadly wildfires,” the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce stated in a recent letter about the hearing. “To that end, we seek a fuller understanding of the role, if any, of the electric infrastructure in this tragic event.”

President & CEO of Hawaiian Electric Shelee Kimura defended the company after the wildfires, saying that allegations of fault were “factually and legally irresponsible” and claimed the company’s investigation showed it responded to both fires promptly. The company is facing several lawsuits connected to the wildfires.

In response to the lawsuits, a spokesperson for the company told ABC News, “Our primary focus in the wake of this unimaginable tragedy has been to do everything we can to support not just the people of Maui, but also Maui County.”

Separately, the father of a woman who died in Maui’s wildfires filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Maui County and the state of Hawaii accusing them of negligence and wrongful conduct in allowing the fires to ignite or spread without being contained or suppressed.

County and state representatives have not responded to ABC News’ requests for comment.

Maui officials have said the blazes spread rapidly due to very dry conditions, such as dry brush stemming from a drought combined with the powerful winds. In the days before the Aug. 8 wildfire, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency issued a red flag warning of “gusty winds and dry fuels” creating a risk of “extreme fire.”

State officials estimated there were more than $5.5 billion in damages.

The Maui Fire Department released its after-action report on Tuesday. The report did not mention the cause and origin of the wildfires, as it is still under investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to Maui County Fire Chief Brad Ventura. So far, the report contained “recommendations and considerations” for future fire response efforts, including the need for more firefighting equipment such as trucks and water tankers.

“While I’m incredibly proud of our department’s response, I believe we can always improve our efforts,” Ventura said in the press conference.

A statewide mutual aid program and evacuation plan for residents, including those who speak different languages, was also recommended.

When the bureau’s investigation is complete, the after-action report will be rereleased, according to officials.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.