Maui sets date for beginning escorted visits to fire-ravaged Lahaina

Maui hopes to begin escorting residents and businesses to fire-ravaged areas of Lahaina starting Sept. 25.
Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 1:32 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 15, 2023 at 4:34 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Maui hopes to begin escorting residents and businesses to fire-ravaged areas of Lahaina starting Sept. 25, but authorities stressed the timeline was fluid and asked people to have patience as they coordinate reentry operations with an ongoing EPA clean-up.

Maui Emergency Management interim Administrator Darryl Oliveira outlined the reentry plan in a news conference Thursday, underscoring the potential health risks of going into the burn zone.

He 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.

“We don’t want to hurt anyone any more than they’ve already been hurt,” he said.

The Lahaina wildfire displaced more than 7,000 people, many of whom have been clamoring for details on how they’ll be given the opportunity to return to survey their properties, seek closure and salvage anything that might have survived the flames.

Oliveira said mental health counselors will be on hand for those re-entering the burn zone and professionals will also be available to help residents collect potential remains or mementos.

“Many need to have that moment of closure,” Oliveira said.

Here are the highlights of how the re-entry plan will work:

  • By next Friday, the county will announce a system for applying for passes into the community. Re-entry will be allowed into zones cleared of toxic materials by the EPA.
  • Property owners and renters will also be contacted directly. “Our intent is to in advance notify residents of when we are going to identify a particular zone for reentry, communicate that to property owners, tenants and occupants,” Oliveira said.
  • The first reentry group will be allowed back into the community Sept. 25. Those groups will be limited to about 10 people. The elderly and children are advised not to go into the area, though Oliveira said he understood that some senior citizens would opt to return.
  • Oliveira said residents and businesses will be escorted into the area for their first two visits. After that, they’ll be allowed to return as many times as needed before a comprehensive debris removal is launched by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  • Residents will be allowed to bring insurance adjusters and faith-based leaders with them.
  • In addition to PPE, the county will provide translators, water, restrooms.
  • Officials also want residents to understand that some structures may be compromised, especially those multi-level buildings, so access may not be possible in some cases.

Details on the re-entry plan will be posted here.

Some 2,200 structures were destroyed in Lahaina, where the nation’s deadliest wildfire in more than a century has claimed at least 115 lives.

The EPA is currently working to remove toxic materials from the area.

Interactive map shows re-entry updates for fire-impacted areas in Lahaina

Authorities had pledged they would detail how they’d start allowing people to return to survey their properties before a months-long debris removal effort gets underway.

The concern about allowing people to return has primarily focused on the hazardous conditions in the fire-ravaged area. Breathing in the ash and being in the area for extended periods of time is considered to be dangerous and returning residents are urged to take precautions.

This story will be updated.