Hawaii report said fire risk LOW despite admitting isles unprepared

Maui wildfire death toll rises to 67, with 1,500 still missing, making blaze worst natural disaster in Hawaii state history

  • Maui County government said on Friday evening the death toll had risen to 67: a further 1,500 remain unaccounted for, with communications down
  • The death toll is rising steadily as rescue workers begin scouring the streets: the mayor of Maui said they are yet to go inside buildings
  • A 2022 report put Hawaii’s risk of wildfires as low, and the governor said the combination of hurricane winds and fires in urban areas was unprecedented 

The death toll from the Maui wildfires rose to 67 on Friday, Hawaii’s governor said, with 1,500 still unaccounted for – as questions mount about whether the islands underestimated the risk.

Maui County government confirmed that 67 people were now known to have perished in the worst natural disaster to hit Hawaii since it became a state. 

The death toll is expected to rise significantly in the coming days, as the mayor of Maui, Richard Bissen Jr., said they have not yet begun searching inside buildings.

It has now emerged that a report last year on emergency preparations placed the risk of wildfires as low – well below that of earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and hurricanes. 

Prior to the wildfires, the most devastating natural disaster in the state’s history was a 1960 tsunami that struck Hilo Bay killing 67 people. The wave was created following a 9.5 earthquake in Chile. 

Josh Green, the governor of Hawaii, is seen in Lahaina on Friday surveying the damage

Two people stand near a destroyed structure in Lahania town on Thursday

Rescue workers search the charred ruins of Lahaina, in western Maui

Members of the Hawaiian National Guard are seen on Friday combing the devastated town

Asked by Wolf Blitzer whether they were complacent, Josh Green, Hawaii’s governor, insisted that the fire was unprecedented and impossible to predict.

‘We do have wildfires every year. But we’ve always been able to contain them,’ he said.

‘Whether the factors were different this year?

‘I’ve been in Hawaii 24 years and never seen the convergence of a hurricane and a wildfire anywhere near our towns. These things do occur, but that was in a rural area with grass.’

Green defended the efforts of his team. 

‘We do what we can with the resources we have, far from the mainland,’ he added.

‘This is the first time we’ve ever seen anything like this.’

The February 2022 report, entitled ‘State of Hawaii Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan – Base Plan’, detailed potential threats to those living on the island.

The plan ‘describes and establishes the organizational framework the state will use to document and socialize the many strategic, operational, and tactical emergency management plans, policies, and procedures that make up the State Comprehensive Emergency Management Program.’ 

The authors claim: ‘Through the execution of this document, state emergency management activities will increase in effectivity, to the benefit of all public and private entities as well as state residents and visitors.’

The document said tsunamis posed the greatest threat, with a high risk to people, property, the environment and emergency management program operations.

Hurricanes were next on the list.

Floods were a significant concern, and cyber threats were also troubling to the authorities.

But wildfires were considered of low risk to people living on the islands. 

There was a greater threat from landslides, terrorism, infrastructure failure and drought, the officials concluded. 

Yet other documents, first cited by CNN, showed that the officials were aware of a growing threat from wildfires.

In 2018, tailwinds from Hurricane Lane whipped a wildfire on Maui, burning 2,000 acres.

‘The approaching storm stretched public safety resources and complicated the suppression response, with strong winds grounding air support and the fire forcing evacuation of a storm shelter within hours of predicted hurricane landfall,’ according to a 2021 report from Maui County.

The fires burned 21 residential structures, 27 vehicles, and an about 150 acres of active farmland, making them among the most destructive in state history, according to the report.

Hawaii’s ‘unprecedented’ wildfires razed a historic town and killed dozens of people after a hurricane hundreds of miles from the islands combined with dry conditions 

A member of the Hawaii National Guard marks a burnt-out truck on Thursday in Lahaina

An aerial view of the destruction of Lahaina, showing burnt-out cars amid the ruins of homes 

The scorched town is pictured from the air. People jumped into the sea to escape the flames

A charred bicycle is seen amid the wreckage of a home in Lahaina

The center of Lahaina, a historic town with buildings from the 1800s, has been destroyed

Fleetwood’s restaurant was ruined by the wildfires which blazed overnight on Tuesday and into Wednesday

Rolando Bumanglag, 65, is seen trying to sort through the charred ruins of his home in Lahaina, looking for his passport and other papers

Smoke still rises from Lahaina on Friday

The charred ruins of an apartment building in Lahaina are seen on Friday

In the 2021 report, officials concluded that funds to prevent wildfires were ‘inadequate.’ 

The report also said the county fire department’s strategic plan included ‘nothing about what can and should be done to prevent fires’ – an omission which the authors called a ‘significant oversight.’

The report recommended a thorough risk assessment of fire hazards, but it’s not clear whether officials heeded the recommendation.

Green, the governor, on Thursday night said that Lahaina would be rebuilt with attention paid to reducing the threat from future fires. 

Source: Read Full Article