Maui Wildfire Death Toll Climbs as Projected Losses Top $5 Billion
The Maui wildfires are responsible for 106 confirmed deaths, making this the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than 100 years. Search and rescue efforts continue as hundreds of people are still missing or unaccounted for, according to CBS News. Thousands have lost homes and businesses and are staying in shelters, hotels, or with friends or relatives. The fire has contaminated water supplies, unreliable cell phone service is hindering communication, and 2000 customers are still without power, according to the Associated Press. These factors complicate the efforts of first responders as crews continue to work to contain and extinguish the fires.
The cause of the Maui wildfires, which broke out on August 8, is still under investigation but downed power lines due to high wind may be at least partially to blame. The winds from Hurricane Dora, a category 4 storm passing 700 miles south of Hawaii, fanned the flames into uncontrollable blazes that tore through communities with little or no warning or time for residents to evacuate.
One fire destroyed nearly every building and many boats in the harbor of the historic port city, Lahaina, population 13,000. Karen and Clark Company estimates about $3.2 billion in insured property losses from the Lahaina fire alone, according to the AP. About 3,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged by fire or smoke. USA Today reports that the Maui Emergency Management Agency has projected the total rebuilding cost from all the fires will be $5.5 billion. The Lahaina fire is about 85% contained. The Upcountry fire is about 75% contained, and the Pulehu/Kihei fire is completely contained but not extinguished.
With storms in the forecast this weekend, crews are rushing to complete as much search and rescue/recovery as possible, according to the AP. While the rain could help to extinguish the fires, the potential for high winds and heavy rain will hinder recovery efforts, and officials are considering cutting off power as a precaution against new fires. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has sent a mobile morgue unit to Maui staffed with coroners and pathologists, and families of missing persons are being asked to provide DNA samples to assist with the identification of victims.