Deadliest wildfires in modern US history devastate Maui Island


The Lahaina fire, the devastating wildfire that leveled Lahaina, was 85 per cent contained as of Sunday night, the Maui County said in an update on Monday…reports Asian Lite News

As the death toll rose due to the wildfires in Hawaii’s Maui Island has incrased to 96, the US state’s Governor Josh Green warned that 10 to 20 more wildfire victims could be found per day as search crews continue to comb through the scorched ruins.

These wildfires are the deadliest in more than a century in modern US history, surpassing the Camp Fire that erupted on November 8, 2018 in California that killed at least 85 people, reports Xinhua news agency.

The wildfires have nearly completely destroyed the historic town of Lahaina, a popular tourist spot on Maui and once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

It’s home to around 13,000 residents.

In an interview with CBS News on Monday, Green said that there was a grim expectation of further casualties.

“There are more fatalities that will come. The fire was so hot that what we find is the tragic finding that you would imagine, as though a fire has come through and it’s hard to recognise anybody,” he said.

All residents of Lahaina have either escaped or perished in the fire, but it could take 10 days for a full death toll to be determined as crews could find “10 to 20 people per day probably until they finish”, the Governor told CBS News.

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said at a news conference that canines had searched only 3 per cent of impacted areas.

The Lahaina fire, the devastating wildfire that leveled Lahaina, was 85 per cent contained as of Sunday night, the Maui County said in an update on Monday.

More than 2,200 structures were damaged or destroyed and 2,170 acres have burned as a result of the Lahaina fire, according to the assessment of the Pacific Disaster Center, an applied research center managed by the University of Hawaii, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The assessment showed that the estimated cost to rebuild could reach $5.52 billion. 

Meanwhile, a lawsuit has been filed against Hawaiian Electric, alleging a downed power line on Maui caused the deadly wildfire.

The cause of the fires has not been determined, but plaintiffs said in the 37-page document that the utility company’s equipment could be a possible source of ignition.

Hawaiian Electric, which operates the utility that serves Maui, had come under scrutiny for not turning off power despite weather forecasters’ warnings that dry, gusty winds could create critical fire conditions.

The plaintiffs said the destruction “could have been avoided” if the utility company shut down its power lines before the high winds hit the island.

“By failing to shut off the power during these dangerous fire conditions, defendants caused loss of life, serious injuries, destruction of hundreds of homes and businesses, displacement of thousands of people, and damage to many of Hawaii’s historic and cultural sites,” said the complaint.

Hawaiian Electric spokesperson Jim Kelly told NBC News and other news outlets that the company would not comment on pending litigation, saying its immediate focus is supporting emergency response efforts and restoring power.

Shares of Hawaiian Electric plunged 39 per cent on Monday amid Wall Street concerns over the company’s potential liability in the Maui wildfires.

Last year, California’s largest utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) reached a $117 million settlement agreement in connection with the 2017 North Bay fires and the 2018 Camp Fire.

The 2017 fires were sparked by downed power lines owned by PG&E, and the Camp Fire was sparked by faulty electrical equipment operated by the same company, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

PG&E was driven into bankruptcy in 2019 and since then, power companies in California, Oregon and Nevada have decided to preemptively shut off power when high, dry winds could spark catastrophic fires.

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