UNITED STATES NEWS

PHOTO GALLERY: A look at Lahaina in the 6 months since a wildfire destroyed the Maui town

Feb 8, 2024, 2:43 PM

LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — It’s been six months since a wildfire leveled most of Lahaina, a centuries-old town on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Authorities say 100 people were killed and three are still missing from the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century.

Nearly 5,000 residents who lost their homes in the blaze are still living in hotels. An acute housing shortage on Maui means they can’t find places to live, even with rental assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or private charities.

Gov. Josh Green is pushing owners of Maui’s many vacation rentals to house displaced Lahaina residents so all evacuees can move into long-term housing by March 1. He’s also proposed a “tax amnesty” to encourage vacation rental owners to rent to residents. Maui County has adopted tax incentives with the same aim.

“The lack of stable housing has obviously been a very major source of anxiety for our displaced residents, especially for our families with children,” Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said at a news conference Thursday.

Bissen said housing issues have compounded the trauma of the fire for many residents and led to depression. He said mental health counseling was available at no cost.

Maui’s economy heavily depends on tourists, who have returned to the Lahaina area though some workers have struggled to attend to them while recovering from the disaster. Longer term, some worry that a redeveloped Lahaina will be too expensive for many Native Hawaiians and local-born residents and that they may have to leave their hometown.

Authorities are still studying what sparked the fire but an AP investigation found it may have started in an overgrown gully beneath Hawaiian Electric Co. power lines. Hurricane-force winds, severe drought and invasive grasses combined to fuel the blaze. Scientists say climate change is increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events of the kind that fed the inferno.

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PHOTO GALLERY: A look at Lahaina in the 6 months since a wildfire destroyed the Maui town