Wailuku, Hawaii — Maui authorities said Thursday they’re planning to start letting residents and business owners make escorted visits to their properties in the restricted Lahaina Wildfire Disaster area later this month.
It’s been nearly five weeks since the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century devastated the historic town of Lahaina, killing 115 people and with dozens still listed as missing.
Darryl Oliveira, Maui Emergency Management Agency interim administrator, said in a news conference that officials plan to allow people in certain zones to start entering the restricted area Sept. 25. He said the goal and purpose of the supervised visits is for them to see their homes and properties safely and to get some closure.
“I really want to appreciate, or extend my appreciation to the community for being so patient and understanding, because I know that this has been long-awaited,” Oliveira said.
How process will work
The process will involve applying for a pass and meeting with officials before the escorted visits. Oliveira said they will be offered by zones depending on where the Environmental Protection Agency has finished hazardous materials removal work.
The first zones will be announced Monday and officials will start contacting people to let them know and walk them through the process, he said.
“It is just overwhelming to see the devastation, so part of our process is to support people and prepare them for what to experience,” he said. “We don’t want to traumatize or hurt anyone more than they’ve been hurt to date.”
Oliveira said people will be provided with protective gear, including respirators and special suits, and instructed on how to properly sift through debris while limiting exposure to toxic ash, according to CBS Honolulu affiliate KGMB-TV. “We don’t want to hurt anyone any more than they’ve already been hurt,” he said.
Water, shade and portable toilets will be available during the visits, Oliveira added. Health care providers will be available, and there will be guidance for salvaging any items at the properties.
“We don’t want people stirring up toxic dust so will give guidance on gently moving through to search for anything,” he said.
People who didn’t live or have businesses in the restricted area won’t be allowed to visit.
“It is not a safe environment for people to be in,” he said, adding much work remains to be done.
“At some point, the Army Corps of Engineers will start removing debris, but not until people have time to get in and get their closure,” he said.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said Thursday on X, formerly known as Twitter, that people displaced by the fire are being moved into more permanent housing “the best that we can,” including longer-term rentals and extended Airbnb rentals with a goal of getting people into 18 months of housing.
He said some may stay in hotels and another goal is to consolidate the number of hotels so services can more easily be provided.
The Aug. 8 fire started in the hills above the historic oceanfront town. Within hours it spread through homes and apartment buildings, art galleries and restaurants, destroying more than 2,000 structures and causing an estimated $5.5 billion in damage.