Maui officials defend not activating sirens during wildfire, say some could not have been saved
Hawaiians are trained to seek higher ground when tsunami warnings go off. If the alarms had gone off, residents would have fled towards the fast-moving fire, instead of away from it, they said
August 18, 2023 7:33am
Updated: August 21, 2023 12:11pm
Maui officials on Wednesday said they did not regret not activating the warning sirens as the devastating fire swept through the town of Lahaina despite criticism that the system could have helped save lives.
The head of Maui’s Emergency Management Agency, Chief Herman Andaya, defended his decision to not send out alerts through mobile devices, radio, and television which are usually used for tsunami warnings.
Chief Andaya said that Hawaiians are trained to seek higher ground when tsunami warnings go off. If the alarms had gone off, residents would have fled towards the fast-moving fire, instead of away from it.
“Had we sounded the siren that night, we’re afraid that people would have gotten mauka [toward the mountains] and if that was the case, then they would have gone into the fire,” Andaya said.
“I should also note that there are no sirens mauka, or on the mountainside, where the fire was spreading down. So even if we sounded the siren, we would not have saved those people out there on the mountainside.”
Andaya’s comments come after several residents and reporters questioned why Maui’s officials did not issue warnings. According to the critics, such a move could have saved lives.
The chief’s comments were defended by Maui Mayor Richard Bissen and Hawaii Governor Josh Green, both of whom agreed with Andaya’s decision.
At least 111 people were killed by the devastating wildfire that began on August 8 near the tourist city of Lahaina. The fire spread at a rate of “one mile every minute,” fueled by a dry summer and wind gusts of up to 81 mph (130 km/h) caused by Hurricane Dora.
So far, rescue teams have only searched 38% of the affected territory, suggesting that the final death toll will continue to climb in the coming weeks, according to officials.
“This is unprecedented. No one has ever seen this that is alive today. Not this size, not this number, not this volume, and we’re not done,” Maui County Police Chief John Pelletier said.