Deadly Maui fire’s cause and origin still unknown months later

Written by on April 17, 2024

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(NEW YORK) — The Maui Fire Department released its report on Tuesday about how it responded to the deadly wildfires that erupted on the Hawaiian island of Maui last year, the deadliest natural disaster in state history.

The after-action report does not mention the cause and origin of the wildfires, as it is still under investigation with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Maui County Fire Chief Brad Ventura said in a press conference Tuesday.

When the investigation is complete, the after-action report will be re-released, according to officials.

Tuesday’s newly-released report includes a presentation of 17 “recommendations and considerations” following the wildfires.

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

Among the recommendations was a need for more firefighting equipment, including trucks and water tankers.

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

Officials also said they wanted to see an analysis done of the cellular system on the island to aid emergency communication efforts in the future.

A discussion of factors contributing to the devastation of the fires and a sequence of events throughout the disaster, as well as an overview of post-incidence efforts, is included in the report.

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.

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

The report from the fire department comes just a day before state Attorney General Anne Lopez is set to release the first set of findings from an independent investigation into the tragedy. According to Lopez’s office, the report analyzes both how the fire incidents unfolded and what happened in the aftermath — spanning a 72-hour period.

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.

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.

A class-action lawsuit filed against Hawaiian Electric on Saturday alleges that the company “inexcusably kept their power lines energized” despite a forecast of high winds that could topple power lines and potentially ignite a fast-spreading blaze. Hawaiian Electric provides power for 95% of Hawaii residents, according to the company’s website.

Maui County also sued Hawaiian Electric, alleging that its inaction on the impending weather in the days before the fire caused the destruction. 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.”

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. We are very disappointed that Maui County chose this litigious path while the investigation is still unfolding.”

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 did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for comment.

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