Maui wildfires: Emergency manager resigns for health reasons amid questions over silence of sirens during deadly wildfires


The Director of Maui’s Emergency Management Agency has resigned, citing health reasons, the County of Maui announced Thursday. The announcement comes a day after last week defending the silence of Maui’s siren system during the worst wildfires in more than 100 years in the United States.

Maui Emergency Management Commissioner Herman Andaya’s resignation is effective immediately, the county announced.

At least 111 people, including children, have died in wildfires that began on August 8, mostly around the town of Lahaina on Maui’s west coast. And much of the fire zone still needs to be searched, officials said.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said, “Given the severity of the crisis we are facing, my team and I intend to place someone in this important position as soon as possible, and we will be announcing that in the near future. I look forward to what we can do,” he said.

The health reasons cited by Andaya were not immediately available. CNN has reached out to Hawaii Governor Josh Greene for comment.

A spokeswoman for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said last week that Maui’s 80-alarm all-hazard outdoor siren system (part of a larger statewide network) was installed as the fire that killed August 8 escalated. ) said no one had attempted to activate it.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Andaya was asked if he regretted not sounding the alarm. “That’s not true,” Andaya told reporters, adding he was worried that if the alarm had sounded, many residents would have gone inland and “would have jumped into the fire.”

Hawaii Senator Mazzy Hirono criticized the move later that day, calling Andaya’s assessment of the situation and comments he did not regret his decision “premature.”

Before Andaya’s resignation was announced, Senator Angus McElvey, who lost his home in the fire on behalf of the devastated town of Lahaina, lashed out at Andaya’s response as “disrespectful.”

“I’ve heard people say, ‘A tsunami siren would have caused people to panic and run up the mountain.’ It’s insulting to think you wouldn’t know,” McKelvey told CNN Thursday. “This is not a tsunami siren. That is a disaster siren.”

Herman Andaya, then-director of Maui's emergency management agency, said at a news conference earlier this month ahead of his resignation on Thursday.

Exactly why the siren system was not used remains unclear, as stories about silence have changed. In an interview with CNN, Green said some of the sirens were broken. The governor asked the state attorney general to reconsider the agency’s response, including silencing fires and alarms.

Greene told CNN Wednesday that the number of missing residents “probably still exceeds 1,000.”

The search party will continue to search more than 2,000 burnt homes and businesses for days, the police chief said. Some are working despite personal grief.

“Please understand that rescue workers on the ground are saving loved ones and families,” he said.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but Maui’s major power company, Hawaiian Electric, has also come under intense scrutiny for failing to cut power lines when high winds created a dangerous fire situation. there is A company that operates a sensor network on Maui said it detected a major power grid failure hours before the fire broke out.

In 2019, Hawaiian Electric publicly announced that it would conduct drone surveys to identify areas vulnerable to wildfires and determine how to keep residents and infrastructure safe.

But from 2019 to 2022, Hawaiian Electric invested less than $245,000 in dedicated wildfire projects, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing regulatory filings. It is said that

Hawaiian Electric has also not sought state approval for a toll increase to pay for safety improvements until 2022, and the toll increase has not yet been approved, the magazine reported.

In a statement to CNN, the company said it has spent approximately $84 million on maintenance and vegetation management in Maui County since 2018, including clearing trees and clearing trees and upgrading equipment.

“There are many factors in forest fire mitigation that don’t specifically count as mitigation activities, such as vegetation management, grid reinforcement or pole replacement, and regular inspections of lines and equipment,” the company said.

Many questions remain, but here’s the latest we know about the historic fire.

• Fires are still raging. The most devastating fire, the 2,170-acre Lahaina Fire, was 89 percent extinguished as of Wednesday night, Maui County posted on Facebook.

Other wildfires are still burning on Maui, including the 1,081-acre Olinda fire, which was 85% extinguished as of Wednesday, and the 202-acre Kula fire, which was 80% extinguished, according to Maui County.

“We are sparsely distributed and in multiple locations around the island,” Maui County Fire Chief Brad Ventura said. Still, “if anything happens, we are ready for it.”

• Authorities identify more victims. Maui County officials said Wednesday that Lahaina residents Melva Benjamin, 71, Virginia Doffa, 90, Alfred Gallinart, 79, Robert Dyckman, 74, and Buddy Jantok, 79 years old) died in the fire. Other victims have also been identified by their families.

• Biden will visit: The White House announced that the president and his wife will visit Maui on Monday.

Mayor Bissen told CNN’s Erin Barnett on Thursday that agents had searched about 45 percent of the “damaged area” (an area of ​​about five square miles).

Collecting the ashes of what were once homes, businesses and historic buildings was a daunting task. The governor also said it would not be easy to identify those killed, as the bodies were mostly unrecognizable and few fingerprints could be found.

Search, rescue and recovery crews are working at the Lahaina wreck site on Tuesday.

“Our genetics team will work with you to identify the remains so that you can be sure that your loved one has been identified and reported with dignity and honor,” Pelletier said.

Authorities have asked relatives of the missing persons to provide DNA samples.

Brenda Keew’s husband provided a DNA sample to help find her 83-year-old mother, Keew told CNN. The couple found their home burned down in hard-hit Lahaina.

“We accepted it the day we found out there was no home,” said Keaw. “But you never give up hope.”

At least 40 dogs from 15 states participated in the search, according to Jeff Hickman of the Hawaii Department of Defense.

“We will start closing down those in need and we will start identifying missing people,” he said.

Some firefighters knew their homes could catch fire on August 8 when ferocious winds scattered flames and quickly overwhelmed the crew.

“People who were trying to extinguish these fires lived in those homes, and 25 of the firefighters were left homeless,” Bissen said Wednesday.

Maui firefighter Aina Kohler told CNN affiliate KITV that she was on the front lines that day and kept her mission to save lives despite her house burning down. By the time her flames reached her home, she said her firefighters had run out of water.

“Honestly, it was the most disappointing event of my life. I felt the supply and I’m like: It’s limp. Leaving your house on fire is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before,” she said.

Two of Kohler’s fellow firefighters also lost their homes while fighting the blaze.

“They were watching their own house burn while they were fighting other homes in the neighborhood,” Kohler said. “That was a really hard blow.”

Satellite images taken on June 25 and August 9 show an overview of Lahaina Square and outlets in Maui County, Hawaii before and after the recent wildfires.

Satellite imagery ©2023 Maxar Technologies

A sensor network operated by the Whisker Institute detected “increased stress on the power grid” on Maui from late Aug. 7 into the following morning, the company’s CEO Bob Marshall told CNN on Wednesday. .

“We measured 122 individual faults on the power grid during the night when all the fires started,” Marshall said. A fault, such as a short or partial short, can divert current from its original path and lead to a fire, Marshall said.

Video taken at the Maui Bird Conservation Center in Makawao appears to show a fault in the power pole just before 11pm on August 7. Shortly after, what appeared to be flames was captured on video, first reported by The Washington Post.

Marshall said the sensor system “provided validation that, in fact, this was very likely caused by a power grid failure.”

The Makawao fires erupted hours before and miles from the blazes that devastated the historic area of ​​Lahaina in West Maui. But Marshall said sensors had detected a fault in the power grid even before the fire.

A class-action lawsuit filed over the weekend alleges the wildfires were caused by Hawaiian Electric’s energized power lines being knocked over by high winds.

The company and its subsidiaries “choosed not to cut power lines after learning that some poles and wires had fallen and were in contact with vegetation and the ground,” the complaint alleges.

Hawaiian Electric vice president Jim Kelly told CNN in an email on Sunday that the preventative suspension would have to be coordinated with first responders, adding that the company does not comment on pending lawsuits.

“Electricity drives the pumps that supply the water needed to fight fires,” Kelly says.

Hawaiian Electric is also eager to find answers, said a company spokesperson.

“We are aware of speculation about the cause of the fire,” spokesman Darren Pai told The Washington Post. “And we’re working hard, along with others, to figure out what happened.”

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