Residents of Maui, Hawaii, who narrowly escaped a devastating wildfire are questioning why the state’s emergency warning system failed to alert them. The fire, which killed at least 55 people, caught many residents off guard as they did not hear any warning sirens. Hawaii boasts the largest integrated outdoor all-hazard public safety warning system in the world, but survivors in the town of Lahaina only became aware of the danger when they saw flames or heard explosions nearby. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. TY O’NEIL, CLAIRE RUSH, JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER and REBECCA BOONE reported
Residents of Lahaina, Hawaii, who narrowly escaped the devastating wildfires that destroyed their homes and claimed the lives of at least 55 people, are questioning why the state’s emergency warning system failed to alert them. Despite having what is described as the largest outdoor all-hazard public safety warning system in the world, with approximately 400 sirens positioned throughout the island chain, there is no record of the sirens being triggered before the fire broke out. Many survivors said they only became aware of the danger when they saw flames or heard explosions nearby, as power and cell phone service had been disrupted earlier in the day. The fire, fueled by dry conditions and strong winds, caught Maui by surprise and quickly spread, resulting in widespread destruction. The wildfire is the deadliest natural disaster in Hawaii since a 1960 tsunami and the deadliest U.S. wildfire since the Camp Fire in California in 2018. Lahaina was known to be at high risk for wildfires, and the county’s hazard mitigation plan highlighted the challenges of communication and limited firefighting resources. The small staff of firefighters, responsible for three islands, lacked off-road vehicles to effectively combat the blaze. The fire moved so rapidly that it was impossible to communicate warnings to emergency management agencies. Mandatory evacuation orders were in place, but downed power poles and clogged roads added to the chaos, making escape difficult for residents and tourists. The communication breakdown has made it challenging for families to locate and ensure the safety of their loved ones. President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster on Maui, and efforts are underway to assist affected residents and tourists..