Maui’s Wildfire Death Toll Breaks Record

Maui County officials reported on Saturday that the death toll from the Maui wildfire has risen to 93, exceeding the previous record set by the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California, which claimed 85 lives. This tragic loss made the Maui wildfire the deadliest in the modern history of the United States.

Last week, the wildfire devastated the historic town of Lahaina on Maui, leaving at least 271 structures damaged or obliterated. The flames consumed a large portion of Front Street, well known for its restaurants, stores, and businesses.

Hawaii’s attorney general has initiated an investigation into the response to the wildfires, pledging a “comprehensive review” of the decisions and policies in place before, during, and after the fires.
After assessing the damage in Lahaina with state officials, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen likened the destruction to a “war zone.”

The devastating wildfire that swept through and ravaged parts of the coastal area last week has amplified fears that any subsequent reconstruction might cater mainly to wealthy outsiders seeking a tropical paradise. Such a development would exacerbate one of Hawaii’s most acute and pressing problems: the departure and dislocation of Native Hawaiian and local-born residents who find it increasingly unaffordable to live in their native land.

In Maui, the average price of a home is a staggering $1.2 million, rendering a single-family residence an unattainable dream for ordinary wage earners. Even purchasing a condominium is beyond reach for many, with the median price at $850,000.

While some residents with insurance or government aid might eventually receive funds to rebuild, the process could take years. Even then, the payouts may not be sufficient to cover rent or purchase alternative property.

The situation recalls the struggle many on Kauai faced after Hurricane Iniki hit the island in 1992. Years were spent battling for insurance payments, and Lahaina residents could face a similar ordeal, according to Higa.

The difficulties in dealing with insurance companies or the Federal Emergency Management Agency may lead many to leave, and many may well leave because there are no other options. This scenario paints a grim picture for residents’ future, adding to the economic and social challenges the area grapples with.