“Residents question lack of warning system as deadly wildfire engulfs Lahaina, Hawaii”

By | August 11, 2023



Residents of Maui, Hawaii, who narrowly escaped the devastating wildfires that struck the area have questioned why the state’s emergency warning system did not alert them in time. Despite having what is considered the world’s largest integrated outdoor public safety warning system, many survivors in Lahaina reported not hearing any sirens and only becoming aware of the danger when they saw flames or heard explosions nearby. The state’s emergency management records show no indication that the warning sirens were triggered before the wildfire broke out. TY O’NEIL, CLAIRE RUSH, JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER and REBECCA BOONE reported

Residents of Lahaina, Hawaii, who narrowly escaped a devastating wildfire have questioned why the state’s emergency warning system failed to alert them. Despite having what is described as the largest integrated outdoor all-hazard public safety warning system in the world, consisting of around 400 sirens across the island chain, many survivors claimed they did not hear any sirens and only became aware of the danger when they saw flames or heard explosions. Thomas Leonard, a retired mailman, only became aware of the fire when he smelled smoke, as power and cell phone service had already been cut off. The fire, fueled by dry conditions and strong winds, caught Maui by surprise, resulting in the deaths of at least 53 people and the destruction of a historic town. It is the deadliest natural disaster in Hawaii since a 1960 tsunami, and the deadliest US wildfire since the 2018 Camp Fire in California. Lahaina was known to have a high risk of wildfires, as identified in Maui County’s hazard mitigation plan. Additionally, the Maui Fire Department faced challenges in fighting the fire due to a small staff and a lack of off-road vehicles. The fire moved so quickly from the brush to the neighborhood that it was impossible to communicate warnings to emergency management agencies. Mandatory evacuation orders were in place for Lahaina residents, while tourists were instructed to shelter in place. The lack of communication and spotty service on the island has made it difficult for residents to locate their loved ones and assess the damage. President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster on Maui and pledged immediate assistance to those affected..