Hawaii officials outline efforts to prevent another devastating wildfire ahead of a dry season

May 10, 2024, 4:16 PM

HONOLULU (AP) — As Maui continues to recover from the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century, Hawaii officials are looking at preventing another similar disaster as the state heads into what is expected to be a dry, fire-prone season, Gov. Josh Green said Friday in proclaiming Wildfire Mitigation and Risk Reduction Preparedness Month.

The Aug. 8, 2023, wildfire destroyed much of the town of Lahaina and killed 101 people.

Of about 3,000 households displaced, about 600 still need to get into long-term housing, Green said. More than 60 people have applied for “One Ohana,” a $175 million fund, named after the Hawaiian word for family, to compensate the families of people killed, he said.

“We are now past the nine-month mark since the tragedy, and today’s Day 276,” Green said. “Most people now have gone through a great deal of recovery and healing. But there are still people wrestling with where they are.”

Climate change has been boosting drought in Hawaii, drying the archipelago’s vegetation and increasing the risks of destructive blazes. Wildfires were once rare in Hawaii, but they have grown in frequency in recent years.

Green warned of a “very dry season.” Officials highlighted wildfire preparation efforts, including expanding a network of remote weather stations, approval of a state fire marshal and encouraging neighborhoods to band together to become recognized as “ Firewise ” communities.

State Department of Transportation Director Ed Sniffen described the agency’s actions, including looking at evacuation routes and planting native, drought-resistant vegetation.

Honolulu Emergency Management Director Hiro Toiya encouraged residents to have go-bags ready for quick evacuations, with items such as essential documents and extra underwear.

“And I’m not being facetious, like just bring extra underwear,” he said. “That can just really make a difference in terms of your quality of life in the immediate aftermath of the emergency.”

The new head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, Amos Lonokailua-Hewett, was expected to be among the officials at Friday’s news conference. But with National Weather Service thunderstorm alerts, “he chose to stay back, just in case,” said James Barros, administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

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Hawaii officials outline efforts to prevent another devastating wildfire ahead of a dry season