A wave of emotions, from abandonment to outrage, is sweeping across the devastated communities in Maui as questions emerge about the preparedness and response to the deadliest wildfire in the nation’s history.
The wildfire, which began as a brush fire near Lahaina, was initially reported to be under control with 100% containment early Tuesday morning.
Residents, lulled into a false sense of security, were shocked when the fires flared up again just hours later. Driven by strong winds, the flames turned into an uncontrollable blaze that rampaged the island and headed toward the ocean.
Critics point to warning sirens that remained silent and hydrants that ran nearly dry. Some even suggest that the danger Maui faced that day may have been underestimated. The questions are mounting, and anger is rising over what could have been done to prevent this wildfire catastrophe.
Survivor Stories and Death Toll
As the horror unfolded, some Lahaina residents were forced to jump into their condo’s pools to escape the flames. Others huddled in different corners to get away from flying debris and flames. Many people abandoned their cars on the streets and jumped into the ocean for safety from the wildfire.
One survivor said, “The fact that we weren’t incinerated is a miracle.”
The wildfire’s aftermath has left many residents grappling with uncertainty, anxious to return to whatever remains of their homes.
One week after the devastating wildfire on the island, officials disclosed a somber death toll, with 106 victims and 1000 more missing. The death toll is expected to rise. Due to the announcement of the brush fire that occurred earlier in the day, schools were closed, with many children returning home while parents remained at work. Due to those circumstances, many of the missing victims are suspected to be children.
Official Response and Investigation
Emergency officials in Hawaii have confirmed that emergency sirens were not activated as the wildfire swept across the island.
Governor Josh Green of Hawaii has initiated an inquiry into the wildfires that have caused significant damage and loss of life in Maui.
He has ordered a comprehensive review led by the state attorney general of the decisions made in response to the wildfires and the failure of sirens.
Green said, “We’ll know soon whether or not they did enough to get those sirens going.”
He characterized the blaze as a “fire hurricane,” moving at a speed of a mile a minute and reaching temperatures up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The search through the charred remains of Lahaina has only begun, as one searcher noted, “When folks are shifting through burnt debris, and dust is on you, it’s not just dust on you. It’s our dead.”
Criticism of President Biden’s Remarks
President Joe Biden’s reply of “no comments” to questions regarding the fatal wildfires in Hawaii drew strong criticism from across the aisle.
Former President Donald Trump labeled it as “utterly deplorable and inexcusable.”
Trump, in a video message on the Truth Social platform, stated, “It is a disgraceful thing that Joe Biden refuses to help or comment on the tragedy in Maui.”
Trump referred to Biden as “the most incompetent president in the history of our country.”
Former Hawaii State Representative Mark Kaniela Ing, a Democrat who now directs the national Green New Deal Network, also expressed his disapproval over President Biden’s “no comment” response to the wildfires, describing it as “shocking and quite disappointing.”
Praise for President Biden’s Efforts
While the President is facing criticism, particularly from Republicans over the federal government’s response, Hawaii Governor Josh Green and other state lawmakers have praised the President for the speed with which he deployed Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) resources to the state
Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii also thanked Biden for his speed in approving a federal disaster declaration as she described her experience witnessing the wildfires’ devastation.
President Biden’s Plans and Multi-Agency Support
President Biden is set to publicly discuss the catastrophic Maui wildfires, a topic he has not addressed in recent days.
The announcement comes as the White House vigorously defends its federal response to the crisis. Olivia Dalton, White House principal deputy press secretary, has revealed the speech will take place in Milwaukee, and discussions are ongoing about the President’s possible visit to Hawaii.
FEMA Chief Deanne Criswell emphasized the administration’s commitment to supporting Hawaii in rebuilding efforts.
The White House has laid out extensive plans for the recovery in Maui, including deploying over 500 federal personnel, military assistance for search, rescue, and fire suppression, and various support measures from different government departments.
This multi-agency response also includes disaster loans for businesses and individuals, public health emergency assistance, and aid for infrastructure repair.
Former President Barack Obama has joined the effort by urging contributions to help those affected by the wildfire in Maui, where he owns a home and has previously visited the impacted areas.