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Lahaina fire timeline shows obstacles to fighting a fire that spread quickly

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(The Center Square) – High winds and relatively low humidity “set the stage” for the deadly Lahaina fire that destroyed thousands of buildings and killed more than 101 people last August, according to a report released by Attorney General Anne Lopez’s office.

The first report from the Fire Safety Research Institute presents a timeline of the fires and the response from government officials and emergency personnel.

“Let me be clear: we are not here to place blame or draw conclusions,” Lopez said. “The focus of the Phase One report and Timeline is to identify the facts. Phase Two will use the Timeline to analyze the facts, and Phase Three will focus on recommendations for the future. The purpose of this independent analysis is to find facts and develop new policies and procedures to save lives and property in the future so Hawaii will be a safer place to live for generations to come.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Maui Fire and Public Safety Department, Lopez said.

The report focuses specifically on what happened near the time the fires broke out in the early morning hours of Aug. 8, 2023 through the next day.

Weather officials issued warnings about the winds and low humidity days before the fire. The first Maui fire occurred near the Lahaina Intermediate School around 6:35 a.m. Efforts to contain it were hampered by the winds, the rocky terrain and the power poles, according to the report.

Another fire in the same location ignited around 2:55 p.m. in the same location. The blaze and smoke blocked the main roadway out of Lahaina. At one point, seven firefighters had to be rescued.

As it spread, buildings were consumed faster than firefighters could protect. Water pipes failed and some hydrants had no water flowing, according to the report.

“The Lahaina wildfire tragedy serves as a sobering reminder that the threat of grassland fires, wildfires and wildfire-initiated urban conflagrations, fueled by climate change and urban encroachment into wildland areas, is a reality that must be addressed with the utmost urgency and diligence – not just in Hawaii,” said Steve Kerber, Ph.D., PE, vice president and executive director of FSRI.

The fire raises questions about community preparedness, the authors said in the report. Hawaii lawmakers are considering an emergency appropriations bill that sets aside millions to help with fire recovery and preparation for future events. The amount is currently being considered by a conference committee, according to the Hawaii Legislature website.