Maui police are releasing a report on their response to the wildfire that destroyed Lahaina

Feb 5, 2024, 4:10 PM

WAILUKU, Hawaii (AP) — Nearly six months after a wind-whipped wildfire destroyed the historic town of Lahaina, the Maui Police Department said Monday it is releasing a preliminary report about its response to the tragedy.

Police Chief John Pelletier and other officials scheduled a news conference at 2 p.m. to discuss the department’s findings.

The Aug. 8 wildfire, the deadliest in U.S. history, leveled Lahaina, the one-time capital of the former Hawaiian Kingdom, and killed at least 100 people. It was driven by high winds from a hurricane passing far to the south and spread quickly through dry, invasive grasses.

Residents fled through black smoke that blotted out the sun, frequently encountering roadblocks or traffic jams where police blocked roads due to fire or downed power lines. Communications failed. In the chaos, some people jumped over a sea wall and sought refuge in the ocean, while others remained in their vehicles and died as heat and flames overtook them.

Audio recordings of 911 calls, obtained by The Associated Press through public records requests, reflected the confusion and terror many residents faced as they were trapped in their cars or homes and unsure of where they should go. Inundated with calls, and with police and firefighters all occupied, the dispatchers became increasingly powerless to render help, resorting to offering advice like “leave if you have to leave.”

Video from body cameras showed police going to great lengths to try to help. One officer sprinted from house to house, alerting people to the approaching inferno, while another coughed and swore as he drove past burning buildings with people he rescued crammed in the back seat.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. An AP investigation found it might have started in an overgrown gully beneath Hawaiian Electric Co. power lines, where an initial fire burned in the morning and then rekindled in high winds that afternoon.

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Maui police are releasing a report on their response to the wildfire that destroyed Lahaina