Maui wildfire deaths reach 80; delayed alerts spark public outcry.


On Friday, as search and rescue continued in Lahaina's ruins, Maui's wildfire death toll in Hawaii rose to 80. Officials are investigating how the blaze spread so rapidly with no warning.

On Friday, as search and rescue teams continued to scour through the smoky ruins of Lahaina, the death toll from Hawaii's Maui wildfire rose to 80, while local officials in Hawaii sought to determine how the fire rapidly spread through this vacation destination almost without any warning.

This fire has become the deadliest natural disaster in the state's history, surpassing the tsunami on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1960 that killed 61 people after Hawaii joined the United States.

Officials warned that search and rescue teams, working with patrol dogs, may still find more victims of the fire, which has destroyed 1,000 buildings, left thousands homeless, and may require years and billions of dollars to rebuild.

"We expect the death toll to rise significantly," said Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii during an interview with MSNBC.

In a statement released in the evening, Maui County stated that the death toll had risen to 80.

The Lahaina fire, which spread from the brush into the town, is still burning but is now 85% contained, as previously stated by the county government. Two other wildfires on the island are 80% and 50% contained, respectively.

Three days after the disaster, it's still unclear whether some residents received any warning before the fires engulfed their homes.

The island has emergency sirens intended to alert for natural disasters and other threats, but they apparently did not sound during the fire.

"This morning, I authorized a full review to ensure we can know what happened and when this disaster occurred," Hawaii Governor Josh Green told CNN.

Officials have not yet provided details about how notifications, whether by text messages, email, or phone, were made.

Bradford Ventura, Chief of the Maui County Fire Department, said at a press conference on Thursday that the rapid spread of the fire nearly prevented frontline responders from communicating with emergency management officials, who usually provide real-time evacuation orders.

"They were essentially self-evacuating with little notice," he said, referring to residents of the communities first struck by the fire.

Mayor Richard Bissen said on NBC’s "Today" show on Friday that he does not know if the sirens sounded, but he mentioned that the fire spread exceptionally fast.

"It was an impossible situation," he said.

Rapid Spread

The disaster began shortly after midnight on Tuesday when a brush fire was reported in the town of Kula, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) from Lahaina. About five hours later that morning, Lahaina's power was cut off, residents said.

In an update posted on Facebook (NASDAQ: META) on the same morning, Maui County said the Kula fire had consumed hundreds of acres of ranch land, but a small 3-acre (1.2-hectare) brush fire that had broken out in Lahaina was contained.

However, by that afternoon, the situation had become much more severe. According to updates from the county government, around 3:30 PM, the Lahaina fire suddenly escalated. Some residents began to evacuate, while people on the town's west side, including hotel guests, were told to seek refuge.

In the following hours, as the fire spread through the town, the county government issued a series of evacuation orders on Facebook.

Some witnesses said they had no prior warning of the fire, which seemed to engulf Lahaina in a matter of minutes. Several people were forced to jump into the Pacific Ocean as a last resort.

Evacuating Lahaina was constrained by its coastal location and hills, meaning there were only two ways out

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