The death toll from last month’s Maui wildfires has dropped from at least 115 to 97 people, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green announced Friday.
In a video posted to social media Friday afternoon, Green said that the “number dropped a little bit because the Department of Defense and all of their physical anthropologists were able to help us discern better who was in cars or in houses.”
He did not immediately elaborate on why the death toll had been projected by Maui County officials at 115 for several weeks.
Of the 97 who died, 74 have been identified, Green said.
There are also another 31 people missing, Green added, which he referred to as “open reports.”
“We’ll get these numbers more and more refined, but fewer people have been lost,” the governor said.
On Aug. 8, several wildfires broke out on the island of Maui, the most devastating of which destroyed about 80% of the historic coastal town of Lahaina.
County, state and federal officials have since given varying numbers as to how many people are considered missing in the Lahaina fire, citing challenges created by the extent of the devastation and the difficulty in finding and identifying human remains. Initially, the number was pegged at more than 1,000 before being reduced to fewer than 400 in late August.
However, since mid-August, Maui County officials had been consistent with reporting the “confirmed” death toll at 115.
The cause of the wildfires, which burned a combined 5.39 square miles and destroyed at least 2,200 structures, remains under investigation. Local and state officials have received considerable criticism for their response leading up to, during, and after the Lahaina fire erupted.
Herman Andaya, former chief of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, resigned his post one week after the fire after facing questions about his controversial decision not to activate the island’s warning sirens when the Lahaina wildfire was spreading. Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen has also taken criticismfor his inability to account for his own actions during the early hours of the blaze.
Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez has brought in the nonprofit UL Fire Safety Research Institute as a “third-party private organization” to assess the response of local government agencies to the fires.