In a recent announcement, Hawaii Governor Josh Green revealed that the death toll from the devastating wildfires on the island of Maui has been revised from 115 to 97. The governor stated in a video posted on social media that the number had decreased due to the assistance of the Department of Defense and their physical anthropologists, who were able to better determine the location of the victims during the fire. However, Governor Green did not provide immediate details regarding the previous projection of 115 deaths by Maui County officials.
Out of the 97 fatalities, 74 have been identified, while 31 people still remain missing, according to Governor Green. He referred to the missing individuals as "open reports" and assured the public that efforts are being made to refine these numbers as more information becomes available. The wildfires, which began on August 8, caused significant damage to the historic coastal town of Lahaina, with approximately 80% of the town being destroyed.
The extent of the devastation and the challenge in finding and identifying human remains has made it difficult for officials to determine an accurate count of the missing persons. Initially, over 1,000 people were reported missing, but this number was later reduced to fewer than 400 by late August. However, since mid-August, Maui County officials consistently reported the “confirmed” death toll at 115.
Officials are still investigating the cause of the wildfires, which burned a combined area of 5.39 square miles and destroyed at least 2,200 structures. However, local and state authorities have faced significant criticism for their response to the fires. Former chief of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, Herman Andaya, resigned from his position after questions were raised about his decision not to activate the island's warning sirens when the fire was spreading. Mayor Richard Bissen of Maui County has also faced criticism for his lack of accountability during the hours when the fire was rapidly spreading.
To assess the response of local government agencies to the wildfires, Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez has engaged the nonprofit UL Fire Safety Research Institute as a "third-party private organization." This move aims to provide an objective evaluation of the actions taken by authorities before, during, and after the Lahaina fire.
The tragic events on Maui have left the community mourning the loss of life and grappling with the extensive damage caused by the wildfires. As investigations continue, efforts will be made to refine the numbers of casualties and missing persons while seeking accountability for the response to the disaster.