1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Maui wildfires deadliest in modern US history

August 13, 2023

The wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui have reached a grim milestone — and continuing to climb — making them the deadliest in the US in the past century.

Members of a search-and-rescue team walk along a street,in Lahaina, Hawaii, following heavy damage caused by wildfire
The inferno swept through the centuries-old town of Lahaina on Maui's west coast Image: Rick Bowmer/AP Photo/picture alliance

Authorities confirmed that the Maui wildfires death toll has reached 93, marking it as the deadliest wildfire in the United States in the last hundred years.

The newly released figure has exceeded that of the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California, which claimed 85 lives and devastated the town of Paradise.

The new death toll Saturday came as search teams with cadaver dogs sifted through the ruins of Lahaina, four days after a fast-moving blaze leveled the historic resort town.

Hawaii wildfire response under scrutiny

Focus on the survivors 

"It's going to rise," Governor Josh Green said about the death toll as he toured the devastation on historic Front Street. 

"We can only wait and support those who are living. Our focus now is to reunite people when we can and get them housing and get them health care, and then turn to rebuilding."

Hawaii Governor Josh Green speaks to reporters during a tour of wildfire damage in Lahaina, Hawaii
Green told reporters Saturday that the number of confirmed dead would continue to growImage: Rick Bowmer/AP Photo/picture alliance

Maui County officials said about 4,500 people needed shelter after being displaced by the blaze. 

They cited figures from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Pacific Disaster Center.

More than 2,200 structures were damaged or destroyed, and more than 2,100 acres (850 hectares) were burned.

The cost to rebuild the historic Lahaina town was estimated at $5.5 billion (€5.02 billion), according to FEMA.

It is projected to be the second-costliest disaster in Hawaii history, behind only Hurricane Iniki in 1992, said disaster and risk modeling firm Karen Clark & Company. 

Residents say no warnings issued

The cause of the fire is still unknown, but residents are puzzled and angered over the lack of warnings.

Sirens stationed around the island — intended to warn of impending natural disasters — never sounded.

Alerts were sent via cell phones, TV and radio stations, but the reach was limited due to power and cellular outages.

"You know when we found that there was a fire? When it was across the street from us," 63-year-old Vilma Reed told AFP in an evacuation center parking lot.

"The mountain behind us caught on fire and nobody told us jack. I raced a line of fire to get my family out," she said.

Sirens weren't sounded in Lahaina: Naka Nathaniel reports

Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez has launched a "comprehensive review of critical decision-making and standing policies leading up to, during, and after the wildfires." 

Residents are being allowed back into west Maui since Friday, although the fire zone in Lahaina remained barricaded. Officials warned there could be toxic fumes from smoldering areas and said search operations were continuing.

Experts say many factors must have contributed to the rapid spread of the inferno, such as a dry summer, unchecked growth of flammable non-native plants, the volcanic topography that creates drying down-slope winds, an unusually parched winter, and a hurricane to the southwest.

Climate scientist: Maui wildfires disaster 'a perfect storm'

tg/lo (AFP, AP, Reuters)