Maui wildfires: Maui’s emergency management chief resigns, citing health reasons, a week after deadly wildfires started


The administrator of Maui’s emergency management agency has resigned citing health reasons, Maui County said In a news release Thursday, nine days later Deadly It’s been more than 100 years since American wildfires started on the island of Hawaii.

Maui Emergency Management Agency Administrator Herman Andaya’s resignation is effective immediately, the county said.

“Given the gravity of the crisis we face, my team and I will be filling this important position as soon as possible, and I look forward to making that announcement soon,” said Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen.

Details of the health reasons cited by Andaya were not immediately available. CNN reached out to Hawaii Governor Josh Green for comment.

At least 111 people, including children, have been killed in the wildfires that started on August 8. While the search for victims isn’t halfway over, the devastation of Maui’s wildfires is already beyond imagination as the investigation into its cause — and the authorities’ response — continues.

Much of the burn zone still needs to be searched, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said Wednesday.

“No one alive today has ever seen anything like this — not this size, not this number, not this volume,” Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said Wednesday. “We’re not done.”

The number of unaccounted residents is “probably well over 1,000 more,” Green told CNN on Wednesday.

Search teams are expected to spend several days combing through the charred ruins of more than 2,000 burned homes and businesses, the police chief said. Some work despite personal tragedies.

“Realize that the responders who go there are retrieving their loved ones and their family members,” he said.

Although the cause of the fire has not been determined, Hawaiian Electric — the main power company on Maui — is facing scrutiny for not shutting down power lines when high winds create dangerous fire conditions. A company that operates a sensor network on Maui says it detected major utility grid faults hours before the fires started.

Hawaii Electric announced publicly in 2019 Unmanned aerial survey should be conducted to identify areas prone to wildfires Determine how to help keep residents and infrastructure safe.

But between 2019 and 2022, Hawaiian Electric has invested less than $245,000 in wildfire-related projects. The Wall Street JournalCiting regulatory filings.

Hawaiian Electric also hasn’t received state approval to raise rates for safety improvements until 2022, and a rate hike has yet to be approved, the Journal reported.

In a statement to CNN, the company said it has spent about $84 million since 2018 on maintenance and vegetation management in Maui County, including cutting and trimming trees and upgrading equipment.

“There are many elements of wildfire mitigation that are not specifically counted as mitigation activities, including vegetation management, grid hardening and pole replacement, and routine line and equipment inspections,” the agency said.

While many questions remain, here’s the latest on what we know about the historic fire:

• The fire still burns: The most destructive fire, the 2,170-acre Lahaina Fire 89% as of Wednesday nightMaui County posted on Facebook.

The 1,081-acre Olinda Fire was 85% contained as of Wednesday and the 202-acre Kula Fire was 80% contained, according to Maui County, with several wildfires still burning on Maui.

“We’re spread thin, we’re in multiple locations across the island,” Maui County Fire Chief Brad Ventura said. Still, “if something comes up, we’re ready for it.”

• Questions about Sirens: Hawaii has one of the largest siren warning systems in the world, but 80 alarms on Maui were silenced as the flames spread. Sirens are primarily used to warn when a tsunami is approaching, and if they had sounded, many residents would have gone to the hillside where the fire was at its worst, Andaya, Maui’s chief of emergency management, told reporters. The day before he resigned.

• Emergency response will be reviewed by: Hawaii’s attorney general will lead a review of official decisions in response to the wildfires, his office said.

• Authorities identify more victims: Maui County officials said Wednesday that Melva Benjamin, 71, Virginia Tofa, 90, Alfredo Galinato, 79, Robert Diekman, 74, and Patti Jandok, 79, all of Lahaina, died in the fire. Other victims have been identified by their families.

• Biden visits: The president and first lady will visit Maui on Monday, the White House said.

About 38% of the burn was searched as of Wednesday afternoon, and officials hope to cover most of it by the end of the week, the police chief said.

It is difficult to contain the ashes of homes, businesses and historic landmarks. and identification those who were killed The governor said it was not easy because the remains were often unidentifiable and fingerprints were rarely found.

A genetics team will help identify the remains “so we can make sure we find out who our loved ones are and make announcements with dignity and respect,” Pelletier said.

Officials have asked relatives of the missing to provide DNA samples.

Brenda Cue’s husband gave her a DNA sample to help trace her 83-year-old mother, Cue told CNN. In hard-hit Lahaina, the couple found her home burned to the ground.

“We accepted the house the day we saw it wasn’t there,” Cue said. “But you never give up hope.”

At least 40 canines from 15 states have joined the search, said Jeff Hickman of the Hawaii Department of Conservation.

“We will begin to close the wanted and identify the missing,” he said. “There are help centers for the missing, civilian lists are circulating and DNA is being collected to help create matches and help locate those who are still missing.”

As strong winds fanned the flames and quickly engulfed crews on August 8, some firefighters learned their own homes could be on fire.

“People were living in those homes trying to put out this fire — 25 of our firefighters lost their homes,” Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said Wednesday.

Maui firefighter Aina Koehler was on the front lines that day and continued to do her job saving lives — even as her home burned to the ground, she told the CNN affiliate. KITV. By the time the fire reached his home, firefighters had run out of water, he said.

“It’s the saddest thing of my life. I felt the supply, and I’m like: This is loose. Leaving a house to burn because we don’t have enough water is like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” he said.

Two of Koehler’s fellow firefighters lost their homes while fighting the blaze, he said.

“They watched their homes burn as they struggled to put out other homes in their neighborhood,” Koehler said. “It hit really hard.”

Koehler’s husband and fellow firefighter Johnny Varona said members of the public also tried to put out the fire.

“It’s not just firefighters out there risking their lives to help people,” he said. “It was the community. Everyone down there understood what was going on. We couldn’t let people die without trying to help them.

Satellite images taken June 25 and August 9 show an overview of Lahaina Square and Outlets in Maui County, Hawaii, before and after the recent wildfires.

Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies

A sensor network operated by Whisker Labs detected a “highly stressed utility grid” on Maui beginning late Aug. 7 and continuing through the next morning, company CEO Bob Marshall told CNN Wednesday.

“Overnight, when all the fires were ignited, we measured 122 individual faults in the application phase,” Marshall said. A wrong — a short circuit or partial short circuit — can cause electricity to leave its intended path, leading to a fire, Marshall said.

Video taken at the Maui Bird Conservation Center in Macao shows the malfunctioning power pole just before 11pm on August 7. Soon after, flames were seen on video, first reported by The Washington Post.

Marshall said the sensor system “provided verification that, in fact, it was caused by a utility grid error.”

The Makawao fire was just hours and miles away from the fire that destroyed historic areas of Lahaina in West Maui. But sensors detected grid faults before that fire, Marshall said.

A class-action lawsuit filed over the weekend alleges that the wildfires were caused by high winds toppling energized power lines from Hawaii Electric Co.

The lawsuit alleges that the company and its subsidiaries “elected not to de-energize their power lines after learning that some poles and lines had fallen and made contact with vegetation or the ground.”

Precautionary shutdowns must be arranged with first responders, Hawaiian Electric Vice President Jim Kelly told CNN in an email Sunday, adding that the company does not comment on pending litigation.

“Electricity powers the pumps that deliver the water needed for firefighting,” Kelly said.

Hawaiian Electric is also eager to find answers, a company spokeswoman said.

“We know there is speculation about what caused the fire,” spokesman Darren Boye told The Washington Post. “We, along with others, are working hard to figure out what happened.”

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