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Maui’s Emergency Management Agency chief said that officials did not activate the island’s emergency sirens as wildfires blazed toward Lahaina because they feared the signal would cause residents to run toward the fire.
Chief Herman Andaya spoke during a press conference Wednesday and defended his decision not to use Maui’s emergency sirens, and instead send out alerts through text messages, radio, and TV. Andaya said the emergency sirens are usually used for tsunami warnings, which tell Hawaiians to seek higher ground, but that would’ve been toward the fire.
“Had we sounded the siren that night, we’re afraid that people would have gotten mauka [toward the mountains] and if that was the case, then they would have gone into the fire,” the emergency chief said, according to The New York Post.
“I should also note that there are no sirens mauka, or on the mountainside, where the fire was spreading down,” Andaya added. “So even if we sounded the siren, we would not have saved those people out there on the mountainside.”
During the press conference, a reporter cited mourning survivors who say that their family members could’ve survived if the emergency sirens had alerted them to the fast-moving fire. Hawaii Governor Josh Green, who was also at the press conference, defended Andaya after the reporter’s questions and said he also would’ve expected a tsunami if he heard the sirens.
Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez said last week that her office will conduct a “comprehensive review” of the decisions made by officials before, during, and after the wildfires.
The death toll from the wildfires that raged last week has now hit 111 and includes children, but only 38% of the burn area has been searched and over 1,000 people are likely still missing, according to the governor. Video footage shows that some of the many fires that burned on the island likely started from downed power lines.
Footage captured by a security camera at the Maui Bird Conservation Center last Monday showed the moment a power line sparked a blaze in the woods. The conservation center where the footage was taken from is in the small rural town of Makawao, just over 30 miles from where a massive fire turned much of the historic city of Lahaina to ash.
The Makawao fire was the first of multiple fires reported on the island last week. Prior to the fires, Maui faced strong winds from a hurricane hundreds of miles offshore. While the Makawao blaze didn’t reach Lahaina, it was one of the many fires sparked on the island last Monday and Tuesday that eventually reached the town of 13,000.