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Maui officials say at least 67 deaths confirmed from devastating wildfires

The death toll in Maui rose to 67 on Friday as officials confirmed another 12 fatalities from a massive blaze that turned large swaths of a centuries-old town into a hellscape of ashen rubble.

Many survivors say they didn't hear any emergency sirens or receive warnings

The death toll in Maui rose to 67 on Friday as officials confirmed another 12 fatalities from a massive blaze that turned large swaths of a centuries-old town into a hellscape of ashen rubble.

Maui County officials said in an online statement that firefighters continued to battle the blaze, which was not yet fully contained. Meanwhile, residents of Lahaina were being allowed to return home for the first time to assess the damage.

Associated Press journalists witnessed the devastation, with nearly every building flattened to debris on Front Street, the heart of the Maui community and the economic hub of the island.

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The roosters known to roam Hawaii streets meandered through the ashes of what was left, including an eerie traffic jam of the charred remains of dozens of cars that didn't make it out of the inferno.

Incinerated cars crushed by downed telephone poles. Charred elevator shafts standing as testaments to the burned-down apartment buildings they once served. Pools filled with charcoal-coloured water. Trampolines and children's scooters mangled by the extreme heat.

"It hit so quick, it was incredible," Lahaina resident Kyle Scharnhorst said as he surveyed his apartment complex's damage Friday morning. "It was like a war zone."

The wildfires are the state's deadliest natural disaster in decades, surpassing a 1960 tsunami that killed 61 people. An even deadlier tsunami in 1946, which killed more than 150 people on the Big Island, prompted the development of the territory-wide emergency system that includes warning sirens, which are sounded monthly to test their readiness.

'There was no warning'

But many survivors said in interviews that they didn't hear any sirens or receive a warning that gave them enough time to prepare and only realized they were in danger when they saw flames or heard explosions nearby.

"There was no warning. There was absolutely none. Nobody came around. We didn't see a fire truck or anybody," said Lynn Robinson, who lost her home in the fire.

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La Phena Davis, who lost everything in the Maui fires, says she 'can't even imagine' her family will return to their community in Lahaina, even if they want to.

Hawaii emergency management records show no indication that warning sirens sounded before people had to run for their lives. Instead, officials sent alerts to mobile phones, televisions and radio stations — but widespread power and cellular outages may have limited their reach.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green warned the death toll would likely rise as search and rescue operations continue. He also said Lahaina residents would be allowed to return Friday to check on their property and that people will be able to get out, too, to get water and access other services.

People would be allowed into West Maui starting at noon local time, and authorities set a curfew from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. Saturday.

The wildfire is already projected to be the second-costliest disaster in Hawaii history, behind only Hurricane Iniki in 1992, according to calculations by Karen Clark & Company, a prominent disaster and risk modelling company.

"The recovery's going to be extraordinarily complicated, but we do want people to get back to their homes and just do what they can to assess safely, because it's pretty dangerous," Green told Hawaii News Now.

La Phena Davis is among those who lost their homes in Lahaina to the wildfires. Speaking to CBC News Network on Friday from Kihei, south of Lahaina, she said it wasn't until late Thursday afternoon that all of her family was accounted for and evacuated to a safe area.

"We see these fires on the hillside all the time, so it never occurred to me that it would go the direction that it had," Davis said.

An aerial image gives a glimpse from above of some of the fire-caused devastation in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii.
An aerial image taken Thursday shows destroyed homes and buildings burned to the ground in Lahaina in the aftermath of wildfires in western Maui. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images)

When the fire advanced north through Lahaina, Davis didn't have time to pack clothes as she left her home. She only grabbed her laptop and some important papers.

Joe Duenat, from the Sacramento, Calif., area, was staying with his family on the ninth floor of a hotel in Kaanapali, north of Lahaina, as fire approached.

"We basically had the wildfire coming up over the hill where Lahaina is and I didn't sleep at all that night," he told CBC's Makda Ghebreslassie after he and his family arrived at the Honolulu airport.

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Returning after the fire, Summer and Gilles Gerling sought to salvage their family's keepsakes from the ashes of their home. But all they could find was the piggy bank Summer's father gave her as a child, their daughter's jade bracelet and the watches they gifted each other for their wedding. Their wedding rings were gone.

They described their fear as the strong wind whipped and the smoke and flames moved closer. But they said they were just happy that they and their two children made it out alive.

"It is what it is," Gilles said. "Safety was the main concern. These are all material things."

The blaze is the deadliest U.S. wildfire since the 2018 Camp Fire in California, which killed at least 85 people and laid waste to the town of Paradise. Cadaver-sniffing dogs were brought in Friday to assist in the search for the remains of people killed by the inferno, said Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr.

Wildfires were known risk

Lahaina's wildfire risk was well known. Maui County's hazard mitigation plan, last updated in 2020, identified Lahaina and other West Maui communities as having frequent wildfire ignitions and a large number of buildings at risk of wildfire damage.

Before and after satellite images of the destruction caused by a fire that hit Lahaina, on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
These satellite images taken Wednesday show before and after views of the impact of the wildfires that hit Lahaina. (Maxar Technologies/Reuters)

The report also noted that West Maui had the island's second-highest rate of households without a vehicle and the highest rate of non-English speakers.

"This may limit the population's ability to receive, understand and take expedient action during hazard events," the plan noted.

Maui's firefighting efforts may also have been hampered by a small staff, said Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Firefighters Association.

There are a maximum of 65 firefighters working at any given time in Maui County, he said, and they are responsible for fighting fires on three islands — Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

'Trying to fight a blowtorch'

Those crews have about 13 fire engines and two ladder trucks, but the department does not have any off-road vehicles, he said. That means fire crews can't attack brush fires thoroughly before they reach roads or populated areas.

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Lana Vierra is eager to return to Lahaina even though she knows the home she raised five children in is no longer there.

"To actually stand there on your burned grounds and get your wheels turning on how to move forward — I think it will give families that peace," she said. When she fled Tuesday, she thought it would be temporary.

She spent Friday morning filling out FEMA assistance forms at a relative's house in Haiku. She's eager to see Lahaina but isn't sure how she'll feel once she's there.

She's thinking about the sheds in the back that housed family mementos — "my kids' yearbooks and all that kind of stuff. Their baby pictures," she said. "That's what hurts a mother the most."

A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said the department "is not aware of any Canadians who have been killed or injured" in Maui, but continues to monitor the situation.


The federal government is asking Canadians in need of emergency assistance in Hawaii to call Global Affairs Canada's Emergency Watch and Response Centre at 613-996-8885 (collect calls are accepted where available), by text message at +1 613-686-3658, via Telegram at Canada Emergency Abroad, via WhatsApp at +1 613-909-8881, or via Signal at +1-613-909-8087. They can also send an email to sos@international.gc.ca.

With files from CBC News

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