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Hawaii attorney general conducts review of decisions made during Maui wildfires. Follow live updates

By REBECCA BOONE (Associated Press)

Follow live updates about wildfires that have devastated parts of Maui in Hawaii this week, destroying a historic town and forcing evacuations. The National Weather Service said Hurricane Dora, which passed south of the island chain, was partly to blame for strong winds that initially drove the flames, knocking out power and grounding firefighting helicopters.

Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez’s office will be conducting a comprehensive review of decision-making and standing policies leading up to, during and after the wildfires, she said in a statement 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. “As we continue to support all aspects of the ongoing relief effort, now is the time to begin this process of understanding.”

Kula residents who have running water were warned Friday by the Maui County water agency not to drink it and to take only short, lukewarm showers “in a well-ventilated room” to avoid exposure to possible chemical vapors.

Agency director John Stufflebean told The Associated Press that people in Kula and Lahaina should not even drink water after boiling it until further notice, as hundreds of pipes have been damaged by the wildfires.

“We talked to the health department, and they say it is OK to take a short shower,” Stufflebean said. “You don’t want to make the water really hot, but lukewarm water in a well-ventilated area should be OK.”

The state needs to reassess their guidance to the utility, said Andrew Whelton, an engineering professor at Purdue University whose team was called in after the 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise, California, and the 2021 Marshall Fire in Boulder County, Colorado.

“Showering in water that potentially contains hazardous waste levels of benzene is not advisable,” Whelton said. “A Do Not Use order is appropriate as precautionary measure until sampling and analysis is conducted.”

Whenever a water pipe is damaged or a city water tank is drawn down very quickly, it can lose pressure. That can cause the unpressurized pipes to suck in smoke and other contaminants. Some of the contaminants that are common with urban wildfires are cancer-causing.

Crews are now shutting off valves for damaged pipes to avoid further contamination, Stufflebean said. Next the Department of Water Supply will flush the system, which could take a few days. Then, officials plan to test for bacteria and an array of volatile organic compounds, following recommendations from the Hawaii State Department of Health, he said.

Maui gets drinking water from streams and aquifers. It has a large public water system, but some people are on private, unregulated wells.

A Coast Guard swimmer jumped into the ocean to rescue two children and three adults who had fled the flames in Maui earlier this week, a commander of Coast Guard Sector Honolulu told reporters Friday.

Capt. Aja Kirksey said Coast Guard members moved quickly on Tuesday to help rescue people who were forced to jump into the ocean to escape the wildfire.

Kirksey said the Coast Guard rescued 17 people from the water, all of whom are in stable condition. Kirksey said more people than that were ultimately saved from the water, but others were rescued by other agencies.

The death toll from wildfires burning in Maui jumped to 67, Maui County officials said Friday.

Officials have said the number is expected to increase as crews search the wreckage that wiped out the popular tourist town of Lahaina.

This week’s wildfires are expected to be the second costliest disaster in the history of Hawaii, second only to damages from 1992’s Hurricane Iniki, according to a Friday statement from a prominent disaster and risk modeling company.

Karen Clark & Company said in the statement that approximately 3,500 structures were within the perimeter of the fire that torched the popular tourist town of Lahaina in west Maui.

Officials said Thursday that fast-moving flames destroyed 1,000 buildings and killed 55 people, although both numbers are expected to increase.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. said Friday he couldn’t comment on a report by the AP that the state’s emergency management records showed no indication that warning sirens sounded off before people were forced to flee.

“I think this was an impossible situation,” Bissen told NBC’s Today show. “The fires came up so quickly and they spread so fast.”

Meanwhile, the county said residents with identification and visitors with proof of hotel reservations could return to parts of Lahaina starting at noon Friday. They will not be allowed into a restricted area of the historic part of Lahaina.

The county said in a statement that a curfew, intended to protect residences and property, will be in place starting tonight from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said Lahaina residents will be allowed to return Friday to check on their property and that people who hunkered down in their homes will be able to get out to get water and access other services.

“The recovery’s going to be extraordinarily complicated, he said, “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.”

The Maui Humane Society says it is seeking donations to help care for hundreds of dogs, cats and other animals that have been injured or separated from their human families because of the wildfires in Maui.

The shelter says many animals need critical care due to smoke inhalation.

The group said it expects an inundation of lost pets. It is seeking emergency foster homes, pet food and litter, and cash donations to provide medical care for wounded animals and to keep pets in their homes.

As of Friday morning, the organization had raised more than half of its goal of $300,000 via Facebook.

Authorities in Hawaii are working to evacuate people from Maui as firefighters work to contain wildfires and put out flare-ups.

The County of Maui said early Friday that 14,900 visitors left Maui by air Thursday.

Airlines added additional flights to accommodate visitors leaving the island. The county advised visitors that they can book flights to Honolulu and continue on another flight to their destination.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency called on residents and visitors to suspend unnecessary travel to the island to make space for first responders and volunteers heading there to help residents. Visitors on nonessential travel were being asked to leave the island, according to the Hawai?i Tourism Authority.

Bissen surveyed the damage in Lahaina on Thursday and said the historic town that has been reduced to charred vehicles and ash doesn’t resemble the place he knew growing up.

“The closest thing I think I can compare it to is perhaps a war zone, or maybe a bomb went off,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday. “It was cars in the street, doors open, melted to the ground. Most structures no longer exist.”

Regarding search and rescue efforts, he said some cadaver dogs arrived Friday.

Pope Francis sent a telegram of condolences to the people of Hawaii, offering prayers for the victims, people who were injured or displaced from the wildfires, and emergency responders who are providing aid to the victims.

The note said Francis was saddened to learn of the destruction and “expressed solidarity with all those suffering from this tragedy, especially those whose loved ones have died or are missing.”

Professional golfer Collin Morikawa pledged to assist fire relief efforts by donating $1,000 for every birdie he makes during the next three PGA Tour events. Morikawa said his grandparents were born in Lahaina and that he still has relatives on Maui.

Maui County confirmed Thursday night that the number of deaths has increased to 55.

Authorities said in a statement that the number of fatalities increased by two in the total from the Lahaina, Pulehu and Upcountry fires.

The Lahaina fire was still active, the statement said.

Bissen said in a news conference Thursday afternoon that authorities are still trying to locate and identify people who died in Lahaina when the fire raced through the town.

“People whose homes are not damaged — you can come home as soon as we have recovered those who have perished,” he said. “Please allow us to complete this process.”

Search and rescue teams from California and Washington state that are trained in disaster skills, including using dogs to find human remains, have been deployed to Maui to assist with the process, officials said.

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier asked for patience, prayers and perseverance.

“We have to respect that we have loved ones in that earth,” he said, “and we have to get them out.”

Bissen said 29 downed power poles with live wires still attached added to the chaos by cutting off two important roads out of Lahaina to Wailuku and the airport. Only the narrow highway toward Kahakuloa was left open, contributing to traffic jams as people attempted to flee.

Palmdale, California, resident Kimberly Buen said she can’t reach her father, Maurice “Shadow” Buen, a 79-year-old retired sport fisherman who can’t see or walk well.

“He has no way out,” Buen said. “I’ve been checking all the lists, all the social media and following all the people at the shelters. I already called the Red Cross. And I just don’t know what else to do.”

Marcia Reynolds, of Natick, Massachusetts, had been deciphering handwritten shelter sign-in sheets posted online for signs of her sister, 77-year-old Regina Campisi, who is recovering from surgery. She was later found safe, Reynolds said.

“We are all so relieved,” she said.

Maui officials have opened a Family Assistance Center at the Kahului Community Center for people seeking those unaccounted for. The Maui Emergency Management Agency will pass out forms and help locate the missing.

The death toll from devastating wildfires in Maui climbed to 53 Thursday, Green told the AP.

“We’re talking about the largest natural disaster of this generation in Hawaii,” Green said. “We are heart-sick that there are more than the original 36 who have passed.”

He expects the number to increase as crews continue to search for survivors and said it looks like more than 1,000 structures have been destroyed.

“Lahaina, with a few rare exceptions, has been burned down,” Green said after walking the town Thursday morning with Bissen. “Without a doubt, it feels like a bomb was dropped on Lahaina.”

Philanthropy experts recommend that people seeking to donate to Maui’s wildfire victims wait to do so as the full scope of need may not be known for up to a week as firefighters finish up their response.

Regine Webster, vice president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, urged potential donors to support organizations with deep local ties and community knowledge.

People can also donate through the crowdfunding site GoFundMe, which vets fundraisers for those who have lost property or were injured and conducts additional verification before releasing the funds. The organization deducts a transaction fee.


This story has been updated to correct the date and location of past wildfires. The Camp Fire occurred in 2018, not 2017, and the 2021 Marshall Fire was in Boulder County, Colorado, not Boulder.


Associated Press journalist Mark Thiessen contributed to this story from Anchorage, Alaska; Ty O’Neil from Lahaina, Maui; Christopher Weber contributed from Los Angeles; Audrey McAvoy, Claire Rush and Jennifer Kelleher from Honolulu; Christopher Megerian contributed from Salt Lake City, Utah; Bobby Caina Calvan from New York City; Caleb Jones from Concord, Massachusetts; Brittany Peterson from Denver; and Janie Har from San Francisco.

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