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New report highlights Maui County mayor in botched wildfire response

New report on Lahaina wildfire response
New report highlights Maui County mayor in botched wildfire response 02:07

A report from Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez focused on the actions of the Maui County mayor in the response to the devastating wildfire last summer that killed more than 100 people and razed the historic town of Lahaina.

The nearly 400-page investigative report released Wednesday raises new and troubling questions about Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen and his response to the blazes.

"This is about never letting this happen again," Lopez said in a news conference, emphasizing the report is not meant to point fingers.  

As hurricane-force winds raged on Aug. 8, 2023, igniting fires, several schools closed and the state was preparing an emergency proclamation.

But at multiple times during the day, Bissen said declaring an emergency was "not necessary." At 3:15 p.m., as the fire grew in intensity, state officials tried to reach him, asking if he was in the emergency operations center. They were told "no."

Instead, with reports trickling in on social media, Bissen finally signed the emergency order at 8 p.m. that night, hours after Lahaina burned down

Last August, CBS News confronted Bissen, who had admitted not calling Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the director of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

"I can't speak to what — or whose responsibility it was to communicate directly," Bissen responded at the time. "…I can't say who was responsible for communicating with General Hara."

Along with killing more than 100 people, the Maui fire destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. The staggering economic loss is estimated at more than $5.5 billion.

"Very little was done to prevent something like this from happening," Sherman Thompson, former chair of the Hawaii Civil Defense Advisory Council, told CBS News Wednesday.

When asked if the government response was negligent, Sherman responded, "I think it crossed the border, it crossed the line." 

CBS News has reached out to Bissen's office for comment, but has not heard back. However, Bissen posted a statement to the county website Wednesday evening which read, in part:

"We understand the state Attorney General's investigation and the hard work that Fire Safety Research Institute put into describing the nation's worst wildfire disaster in modern history. Today's Phase One report can help piece together what other fire-stricken jurisdictions have called the most complex megafire they have ever seen."

"I remain committed to bringing Lahaina residents back home so they can take additional steps toward healing," he added. 

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