The emergency sirens on Maui failed to go off as a devastating wildfire approached residential areas on the island, according to the Hawaii Emergency Services Administration (HI-EMA).
The agency said that it tests the emergency sirens once a month, but when a wildfire reached residential areas such as Lahaina earlier this week, the sirens did not alert Hawaiians to the danger heading their way, The New York Post reported. Flames reached the city on Tuesday, and authorities have confirmed the fire killed 80 people, but officials warned it could rise even higher.
“Neither Maui nor HI-EMA activated warning sirens on Maui during the wildfire incident,” the agency said in a statement. “The sirens are used to alert the public to seek additional information; they do not necessarily indicate an evacuation.”
“There was no warning. There was absolutely none. Nobody came around. We didn’t see a fire truck or anybody,” said resident Lynn Robinson, who lost her home in the blaze.
HI-EMA also sent out alerts via text, radio, and TV, but many residents didn’t receive or notice alerts and were only made aware of the fire when they saw it or heard explosions. It remained unclear why the emergency sirens didn’t initially go off, according to Gov. Josh Green (D-HI), who told CNN that much of the equipment was “destroyed very rapidly” by the fire.
Half a dozen fires continue to burn on Maui as of Saturday, but officials said the Lahaina fire, by far the most deadly and destructive, is now 85% contained, NBC News reported. As the fire spread through the city, residents were forced to jump into the Pacific to save themselves, and the U.S. Coast Guard used a 45-foot boat to rescue at least 14 people. Over 2,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged in the inferno, and Maui County could face rebuilding costs of up to $5.52 billion.
Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez said her office will conduct a “comprehensive review” of the decisions made by officials before, during, and after the wildfires.
“The Department of the Attorney General shares the grief felt by all in Hawaiʻi, and our hearts go out to everyone affected by this tragedy,” Lopez said 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. As we continue to support all aspects of the ongoing relief effort, now is the time to begin this process of understanding.”