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Maui wildfire crews continue to fight "flare-ups" in Lahaina and inland, as death toll rises past 90

Hundreds still missing after devastating Maui fire
Hundreds still missing after devastating Maui fire 04:11

Crews continued to battle flare-ups in the wildfires that have devastated the Hawaiian island of Maui and so far killed at least 93 people as of Sunday, with hundreds still missing, according to government officials. 

The term "flare-up" refers to any situation where the rate of spread or intensity of a wildfire accelerates suddenly. It is a phenomenon that does not typically last long or require significant overall changes to a given wildfire management plan, the U.S. Forest Service says.

As firefighters worked to extinguish flare-ups in blazes that broke out last Tuesday in the historic West Maui town of Lahaina and in Maui's inland Upcountry region, three homes in Olinda and 16 homes in Kula — both in Upcountry — had been destroyed, Maui County said Sunday. Many other homes had sustained damaged, the county added.

The Pacific Disaster Center and the Federal Emergency Management Agency previously estimated that more than 2,200 structures, the vast majority of which are believed to be residential, had been damaged or destroyed in the fires. Officials projected that rebuilding could cost more than $5 billion, and that 4,500 residents will need ongoing emergency shelter in the meantime.

Lahaina fires
Destroyed buildings and homes are pictured in the aftermath of a wildfire in the city of Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui on Aug. 11, 2023.  PAULA RAMON/AFP via Getty Images

A third wildfire that burned last week near Kihei, along the southwestern coast of Maui, was declared 100% contained as of Saturday, Maui County said, noting in their latest update that "containment indicates what percentage of the fire perimeter has been enclosed by a control line and reflects opportunities for the fire to spread beyond its original border into new areas." 

Another fire reported on Friday evening in Kaʻanapali, which is just a few miles north of Lahaina, was extinguished as of Saturday. That fire covered about one acre of land, according to county officials.

Death toll rises but few victims identified so far

The death toll from Maui's wildfires has risen to at least 93, the county said in a news release late Saturday. Officials have only identified two of the people confirmed deceased in the aftermath of the blazes, which are now the deadliest natural disaster in Hawaii since it became a state in 1959.

Lahaina was hit hardest by the wildfires, and Hawaii Governor Josh Green estimated that 80% of the town has been destroyed. CBS affiliate Hawaii News Now reported that a family of four died while trying to escape the Lahaina fire last week. They were found on Thursday in a burned car near their home, according to the station. 

"The magnitude of our grief is indescribable, and their memories will forever remain etched in our hearts," relatives of the family said in a statement.

Local crews were working with cadaver dog teams flown in by FEMA to find more missing people in neighborhoods that have been reduced to fields of ash. Maui police chief John Pelletier said crews have covered just 3% of the destruction. 

"We've got an area that we have to contain that is at least five square miles, and it is full of our loved ones," he said. 

Pelletier urged people with missing family members to take DNA tests to aid in the identification process.

"When we find our family and our friends, the remains we're finding is through a fire that melted metal. We have to do rapid DNA to identify them. Every one of [them] are John and Jane Does," he said.

FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said the agency will be bringing in more dogs to speed up the process. Pelletier said he had requested 12 more dogs, which were on the way Sunday.

Hawaii AG launches review 

Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez announced on Friday that her department would be conducting "a comprehensive review of critical decision-making and standing policies leading up to, during, and after the wildfires on Maui and Hawai'i islands this week." 

County officials are facing criticism for their response. A 2014 Hawaii wildfire protection plan warned dry vegetation could fuel a catastrophic blaze, but action wasn't taken and survivors of the most recent fire said they weren't told to evacuate until it was too late. 

In a statement, Lopez said the 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."

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