Chiefs Say Deadly Maui Fires Exposed Many Issues

Report describes firefighters' heroism, makes 111 recommendations
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 17, 2024 1:40 PM CDT
Chiefs Say Deadly Maui Fires Exposed Many Issues
The aftermath of the wildfire in Lahaina, Hawaii, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

The Maui wildfires in August were America's deadliest wildfires in more than a century—and while the response from firefighters was heroic, the "largest and most extensive deployment" in the history of the county's fire department exposed many issues, an After Action Report produced by the Western Fire Chiefs Association states. The report found that as fire raged in the town of Lahaina, it took up to an hour to deploy extra vehicles as workers scrambled to stock them with the proper equipment, the New York Times reports. The report made 111 recommendations connected to 17 challenges faced by the Maui Fire Department.

  • Heroism. The report's detailed timeline of the fire describes efforts to rescue fire victims in Lahaina. "One victim remained with the fire crew inside of the ladder truck for some time while crews found a lost infant being tended by strangers," the report states. "Crews went into the hazard area in vehicles and on foot, found people in the water near the seawall and pulled them to safety. They had to carry some victims on their backs over downed power lines to a medical aid staging area."

  • Equipment issues. The report recommended that back-up vehicles be kept ready to go. It also called for money to be spent on standardized equipment to prevent delays, the Times reports. The report said Hawaii should create a statewide mutual aid program for fire departments. It said the lack of one caused a "cumbersome and slow process for relocating equipment."
  • Communication issues. The fire brought down the island's cellular system and radio communications were overwhelmed, the report found. It called for an analysis of the island's cellular system, the AP reports. It also noted that "communicating evacuation information to a transient tourist population that speaks multiple languages poses a significant challenge."
  • Mitigation. The report called for the deployment of new technology that can monitor for areas of danger and position firefighters in areas of greatest risk, the Times reports. It called for better land management and the introduction of crew to clear potential wildfire fuel. "The introduction of such crews could not only address this specific task but also contribute to various year-round support functions," it stated. "Additionally, this initiative could pave the way for establishing a firefighter entry-level orientation program."
  • Chief is "incredibly proud." Maui Fire Chief Brad Ventura said Tuesday that while the department has improvements to make, he is "incredibly proud" of the response, the AP reports. "There were firefighters fighting the fires in Lahaina as they well knew their homes were burning down."
  • Second report. Hawaii's attorney general will release the first phase of findings from her office's review of the disaster Wednesday, CNN reports. Her office said last month that the report will analyze "how the fire incident unfolded, based on science, during the first 24 to 72 hours of the fire and its aftermath, and includes a comprehensive timeline of events."
(More Lahaina stories.)

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