The head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency has resigned amid criticism over the response to the wildfires that killed at least 114 people in Lahaina, Hawaii.
Sirens not used to warn residents
Herman Andaya submitted his resignation on Thursday, citing unspecified health reasons. He had faced backlash for not using outdoor alert sirens before the fires overwhelmed the historic community of Lahaina on August 8.
Andaya defended his decision, saying that the sirens are meant for tsunami and hurricane warnings, and that using them for wildfires would have confused residents and possibly put them in more danger.
He said that the agency relied on other methods of communication, such as text messages, social media, and radio announcements, to inform people of the evacuation orders.
However, some residents said they did not receive any alerts or heard them too late. Many had to flee on foot or by boat as the flames blocked roads and destroyed homes and businesses.
Drought, wind, and power lines blamed for fires
The Maui wildfires are the deadliest in U.S. history in over a century. They were fueled by drought conditions, dry vegetation, and hurricane winds from a storm passing south of the islands.
The cause of the fires is still under investigation, but some media reports have suggested that a power line may have sparked the first fire in the Maui Bird Conservation Center. A security camera video showed a bright flash, followed by a power outage and a fire in the woods.
Hawaiian Electric, the state’s largest power company, has been sued by several residents who accused it of negligence and failing to maintain its equipment and clear vegetation around its power lines. The company told Forbes that no cause for the fire has been determined yet and that it does not have a formal power shutoff program.
Another controversy arose over the delay in releasing water from streams to reservoirs that could have helped firefighters. A water management company said it requested permission from a state agency to divert water, but was told to first ask about impacts on downstream users. The request was approved hours later, but by then it was too late.
Recovery efforts underway
As search teams continue to look for remains and identify victims, recovery efforts are underway to help the survivors and rebuild the community.
President Joe Biden is expected to visit Maui on Monday to offer his support and assess the damage. He has declared a major disaster in Hawaii and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.
Several organizations have mobilized to provide shelter, food, water, clothing, and other supplies to those affected by the fires. Donations of cash and goods have poured in from across the state and beyond.
Many residents have also expressed their resilience and determination to restore Lahaina to its former glory. The town is known for its historic buildings, cultural heritage, and tourism industry.