HONOLULU (KHON2) — Roads and highways in and out of Lahaina were compromised from dawn to dusk on the day of the deadly fires — whether by flames or by downed poles and live powerlines. Always Investigating mapped the area and talked with people who could and could not escape.
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Days before all of Lahaina was ablaze, the biggest risk was known to be extreme winds in the forecast for Tuesday, Aug. 8. By dawn the wind brought down poles and closed Honoapiilani Highway near Front Street.
Minutes later farther north, the first of the Lahaina fires started near downed power lines, closing much of Lahainaluna Road, a major connector between Front Street and the Lahaina Bypass road.
And on and on it goes: poles down, flames up, roads closed one after another after another. Some re-open, only to snarl again.
Caregiver Aaron Kamaunu knew he had to get his 99-year-old live-in patient and several other elderly and disabled folks out. A firefighter cut a gate lock on a service road near Shaw Street to help traffic flow out of there.
“When I got to the highway and Shaw Street, there was a sign that said, ‘Road Closed,’” Kamaunu said. “I ignored it. I knew it had to be that was a mistake, that sign there was a mistake, because when I exited out from Front Street, the road was open to Kahului.”
A bit more north in Lahaina, even more confusion evacuating the Kelawea area around a 4:16 p.m. statewide alert to get out.
“So when I went right on Paunau to go up to the highway, that’s when I noticed everything was on fire,” said Mike Cicchino, who took his wife and five dogs in their care and headed down Lahainaluna Road.
“We noticed off to the left hand side going south on Honoapiilani Highway like if you’re going to turn to go to Kihei that was blocked by police with cones,” he said. “All the traffic to the right on Honoapiilani isn’t moving, but that’s where the fire is heading. People that I know went around those barricades, the extra ones, and they made it out safe with no issues.”
“So they had it blocked going south and they had it blocked going north. They literally put us into a death trap,” Cicchino said. “They kind of pushed us into Front Street and then blocked off both sides.”
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier explained what police were up against that day: “We were getting people out of the area, we are forcing people not to go at a certain point down Front Street because it had already gotten too late. And so the efforts were to get people away from the fire and away from the danger.”
Cicchino and his wife abandoned their truck on a sidewalk and started running, but they run out of anywhere safe on land so they hop a seawall with dozens of others including children and the elderly.
“We’re going out in the water,” he said, “and then we’re getting hit by the embers and flames out in the water and we’re having to dunk underwater.”
Cicchino saw the U.S. Coast Guard rescue people from deeper in the water and take some children from the shoreline.
Maui firefighters took Cicchino, his wife, the dogs they could find, and other people out in the bed of a county pickup truck. Roads were worse than ever with poles, wires and flames.
“Whenever they came across something that they couldn’t go, like a telephone pole or whatever, they would have to slam on their brakes and swerve,” Cicchino said.
Pelletier said no one was intentionally blocked inside Lahaina.
“We did not close or forbid people from getting out of Lahaina,” Pelletier said. “If there is a downed power line that was live, we want to make sure that you didn’t go over a downed live power line.”
“Police officers that night that day, that afternoon, they were driving up and down on their PAs pleading with people to get out, they were knocking on doors. They were doing everything they can,” Pelletier said. “They knocked down a fence in Lahainaluna to get people out because they needed to get out.”
That police fence break at the dead end at Kanakea Loop helped a steady stream of cars get to the safe section of the bypass road.
Cicchino’s Gofundme can be accessed here.