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New Maui Evidence: Fire Gained Unstoppable Momentum While Firefighters Were on Lunch Break

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A new report suggests that a 40-minute period in which a brush fire on Maui was not being monitored was the critical window during which what had been a small fire morphed into a raging blaze that devastated the town of Lahaina, Hawaii.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that a fire that began at 6:37 a.m. Aug. 8 when a Hawaiian Electric power line was downed was considered fully extinguished when firefighters who had been watching the site left it at 2:18 p.m. for a lunch break.

“It didn’t spread for the few hours we were there. It didn’t rekindle,” firefighter Aina Kohler told the newspaper.

Firefighters had put 23,000 gallons of water on the site and built a containment line around the site, which was about a mile from Lahaina’s waterfront.

But at 2:54 p.m., less than 40 minutes after they had left the site, the fire was burning again.

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Kohler defended the decision to leave.

“There was so much chaos going on that day that to expect a fire department to sit on what appeared to be a completely controlled situation is kind of ridiculous. We’re here to take care of the whole community,” she said.

Another firefighter told the Journal that as of 2:30 p.m., the scene of the fire was quiet, with no smoke or flames.

John Fiske, an attorney for Maui County, said firefighters were on the scene within five minutes of the 2:54 p.m. alarm, but within 12 minutes, homes were on fire. By 3:22 p.m., embers were flying past positions taken up by firefighters, Fiske said.

Should officials have been more transparent about Maui from the start?

With lawsuits flying, the utility has said the fire that devastated Lahaina was separate from the one started by a downed power line.

Fiske said no evidence of a second fire has been provided, leading officials to believe that the initial fire rekindled.

“The firefighters did everything they were supposed to do. And the fact that there was a flare-up, or a rekindle or a reignition, whatever you want to call it, is not the fault of the firefighters,” he said.

Even before the cause was determined, officials said they knew weather conditions played a role in the blaze becoming so deadly.

“[W]e were made aware in advance by the National Weather Service that we were in a red flag situation — so that’s dry conditions for a long time, so the fuel, the trees and everything, was dry,” Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, commander general of the Hawaii Army National Guard, said at a briefing on Aug. 9, the day after the fires, according to CBS News.

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He added that those conditions, along with the high winds and low humidity “set the conditions for the wildfires.”

The fires killed 97 people, with 31 officially listed as missing, according to The New York Times. Both numbers are down from initial estimates.

According to the Times, Hawaiian Electric has said it was not to blame for the fire that ultimately ravaged Lahaina, but it has admitted it has not found the cause of any second fire.

A House committee will hold a hearing on the fires on Sept. 28.

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Jack Davis is a freelance writer who joined The Western Journal in July 2015 and chronicled the campaign that saw President Donald Trump elected. Since then, he has written extensively for The Western Journal on the Trump administration as well as foreign policy and military issues.
Jack Davis is a freelance writer who joined The Western Journal in July 2015 and chronicled the campaign that saw President Donald Trump elected. Since then, he has written extensively for The Western Journal on the Trump administration as well as foreign policy and military issues.
Jack can be reached at jackwritings1@gmail.com.
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