HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Maui wildfires have certainly taken their toll, including on the first responders serving so heroically.
Maui firefighters have been put through the ultimate test. The head of the firefighter’s union said all personnel are safe and accounted for but, “Fourteen of our members have been confirmed, as far as losing their homes,” said Bobby Lee, Hawaii Fire Fighters Association.
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“Everybody’s okay physically, we don’t know emotionally how they are,” Lee said. “I mean, they’re not just firefighters, they’re also part of the community.”
The firefighters’ international union is facilitating disaster relief for members. The community is stepping up to house them.
“A lot of people calling, wanting to know what’s going on, ‘How can I help?'” Lee said, “open vacation rentals and things like that.”
Help is on the way to put more firefighter boots on the ground from other counties.
“Honolulu is sending in resources today, about 40 or so firefighters going into help Maui,” Lee said. “I think the state also sent in some resources. I’m not sure if Kauai is but they were asking for volunteers also.”
It’s essential help in what’s still a very active fire season.
“The resources they had just ended up being where at some point you run out, and there’s not much you can do, then you got to start making those very hard decisions, prioritizing what you’re going to do with the resources you have,” said Lee.
Those priorities are influenced by conditions on the ground, like when one location appears controlled while other sites are flaring up. Take what officials saw and did Tuesday, Aug. 8, when Lahaina’s first morning blaze was put out.
“That was brought under control by 9 a.m., 9:04 a.m. to be exact,” said Maui Mayor Richard Bissen. “So, we’re happy about that.”
The county lifted Lahaina evacuation orders in the morning, advised shelter-in-place for an afternoon flareup, and allowed access to Lahaina as late as Tuesday evening, only to see flames come roaring back in Lahaina by dusk.
“It’s been absolutely chaotic,” added Lee. “You know, when you have that level of wind pushing fire, you’re basically dealing with a blowtorch. When you look at the level of wind that was happening there, that’s what can change the whole scenario of the island in a moment’s notice. So my guess would be as the wind flared up, everything just changed.”
He sees parallels with California’s Camp Fire of 2018 which killed more than 80 people and destroyed the city of Paradise.
“When you look at Lahaina, I would coin it as it really was a mini Paradise fire, the way the fire came in the windstorm, the way it just leveled the town,” Lee said, “and we didn’t have enough resources to address it.”
He said the public should remain vigilant and ready.
“So, trying to eliminate the sources that can cause these conflagrations, like cut the brush back away from areas can be susceptible to these types of fires,” explained Lee.
And broaden your emergency plans to include evacuation.
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“You err on the side of caution, and you prepare to evacuate as fast as you can. That should be everybody’s mind,” concluded Lee.