Lessons from Maui
We are on Maui surveying fire damage from the August 8, 2023 Lahaina Fire and assessing the situation on the ground.
This is a learning exercise since we are not licensed in Hawaii and so cannot represent fire victims as lawyers.
Even so, there is no rule against us observing, investigating and learning from the Maui experience, and so adding to the body of knowledge that helps us help fire survivors in other situations.
We arrived on the island on a Saturday and found a base in Kihei, a small settlement about 20 miles south of Lahaina, where the primary fire damage is located.
Maui’s number one industry is tourism and the fire has resulted in a dramatic drop in visitors to the island. While the Lahaina area is devastated, the east and southwestern parts of the island have no fire damage. The governor is asking tourists to please come the island and just stay away from Lahaina. One resident tells us the streets have not been this empty since the pandemic.
Note: There will be economic losses associated with the fire outside the Lahaina area. Our experience is these losses, though real, will be difficult for most to document and claim.
I am writing this note twenty-one days after the August 8 fire. The national press mostly is publishing daily updates on the situation here on the ground and legal maneuverings. Sample headlines from today include the Washington Post (“Hawaiian Electric denies sparking deadly Maui blaze”) and the Wall Street Journal (“Lawyers Descend on Maui After Historic Wildfire”).
Mostly, the press coverage misses the real human story about what happens to people when their lives are turned upside down by fire.
Activity on the ground
One culinary student at the local community college reports that his regular school program is suspended temporarily so the students can help prepare some 5-10 thousand meals per day to feed fire survivors.
Immediate needs are food, shelter and clothing for those forced to flee on August 8.
Maui Health has a hotline set up for families searching for loved ones at area hospitals. There is a health clinic set up at the Hyatt Regency Maui, 9am-4pm Monday through Saturday, closed Sundays. Maui Memorial Medical Center is treating burn, smoke inhalation and other fire-related injuries from the Lahaina and other Maui fires. More urgent cases are being transferred to Oahu.
A resource center is operating at the Hyatt Regency Monarch Ballroom, daily 10am-8pm, with multiple service agencies present including FEMA, the Red Cross and others.
The FBI-Honolulu Division is collecting DNA samples for those with missing parents, siblings or children.
Help is requested identifying unaccounted for individual using a validated list of names available at mauinuistrong.info/unaccounted for.
Fire survivors can apply for federal disaster assistance at joint Disaster Recovery Centers, including two at the University of Hawaii Maui College and the Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center (hours 8am-7pm).
There are calls for volunteers to assist in recovery efforts, requests for housing for disaster personnel who lost homes in the fire.
In the meantime, real estate speculators are reportedly prowling for deals in the burn areas. An emergency proclamation from the Governor’s office makes it a crime for any person to intentionally, knowingly or recklessly make an unsolicited offer to an owner of real property located in the 96761, 96767, and 96790 zip codes.
To date, Maui County officials report identifying 45 individuals killed by the fire. There are 115 confirmed fatalities, with 388 people unaccounted for at this writing.