Firefighters battling Maui’s ferocious wildfires that killed at least 80 people and leveled entire communities have made some progress in containing the blazes, while search and rescue crews continue efforts to recover more bodies Saturday as the death toll is expected to climb.
Officials do not know exactly how many people are still missing after wildfires earlier this week began eating through neighborhoods in western Maui, where one fire reduced much of the historic town of Lahaina to ashes.
The blazes, fanned by powerful winds from Hurricane Dora hundreds of miles offshore, have become the deadliest natural disaster in Hawaii since statehood in 1959.
As of Friday evening local time, all three fires were still active after initial reports came Tuesday. And while there have been some improvements in containment, the risk of flare-ups remains.
People in Kaanapali were evacuating Friday night after spotting a fire in the neighborhood, which is about 4 miles north of hard-hit Lahaina, Maui police said. The fire was later 100% contained, according to county officials.
Of the three largest wildfires that crews have been combating, the deadly fire in Lahaina was 85% contained, Maui County officials said Friday afternoon, up from 80% reported the day before.
The Pulehu fire – located farther east in Kihei – was 80% contained Friday, another sign of improvement from 70% on Thursday, officials noted. A third inferno in the hills of Maui’s central Upcountry was 50% contained on Friday, officials said.
Meanwhile, search and recovery teams are using cadaver dogs to help find those missing and the increasing possibility of more deceased victims.
So far, crews have not searched inside buildings, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said Friday. The deaths in Lahaina confirmed as of Friday afternoon likely happened outdoors as people were trying to escape flames, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green told CNN.
“Without a doubt, there will be more fatalities. We do not know, ultimately, how many will have occurred,” said Green, noting that officials should have a better idea of that within days.
As search efforts are underway, here’s the latest as of Friday evening:
- Thousands unhoused: The fires have displaced thousands of people, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell told CNN on Thursday. Those staying in shelters have expressed a deep sense of uncertainty, and the governor has urged people to take victims if they can. A hotline will likely be established to connect displaced residents with available rooms in homes and hotels, the governor added.
- Lahaina road closures: After residents were allowed a brief visit to their hometown, Maui Police closed its main road. Residents disregarded access rules when visiting Lahaina, leading law enforcement to shut down entry, CNN affiliate Hawaii News Now reported. It’s not clear when public traffic will be reinstated.
- Official updates: Communication in parts of Maui have been compromised due to severed lines, and many have reported not hearing from their loved ones in days. Maui County officials have resorted to updating the public via radio stations. They will also post new information on the county’s website and social media pages.
- Disaster response under review: Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez will lead a comprehensive review of officials’ response to the catastrophic wildfires, her office said Friday. “My Department is committed to understanding the decisions that were made before and during the wildfires and to sharing with the public the results of this review,” Lopez said in a statement.
- Emergency sirens: News of the review comes as state records show Maui’s warning sirens were not activated, and the emergency communications with residents was largely limited to mobile phones and broadcasters at a time when most power and cell service was already cut.
- Water and power issues: Local authorities have cautioned residents not to drink the water in Upper Kula and Lahaina areas because it is unsafe. “Instead of tap water, customers are advised to use only bottled water for drinking, brushing teeth, making ice and preparing food,” Maui County said Friday. Power restorations were underway Friday, with about 5,000 outages still active, according to the tracking site PowerOutage.us, a significant improvement from about 11,000 a day prior.
In pictures: The deadly Maui wildfires
While it’s too early to determine the full scope of widespread destruction, Green estimates the losses are in the billions of dollars.
In Lahaina alone, “upwards of 1,700 buildings” were destroyed, the governor said, and it would take years to rebuild the historic town.
As the town is closed to residents, one couple told CNN they were not allowed in Friday to see their home.
“The police won’t let us go to our home. We lived in the same house for 50 years since 1971,” Steve Dolan told CNN.
“I wanted to go down there, see if anything’s left, but they won’t let us,” he said. “We’ll deal with it and we’ll wait a week or two and we can go see what’s left and start from scratch and rebuild.”