Nearly 400 people missing after Maui wildfire

Aug 25, 2023, 10:27am EDT
A view shows the damages as U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden (not pictured) visit the fire-ravaged town of Lahaina on the island of Maui in Hawaii, U.S., August 21, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Jenna Moon/

Hawaiian officials have released a list of nearly 400 people who are unaccounted for following a devastating wildfire in Maui earlier this month. The list, which contains 388 names, is expected to shrink as people who are safe identify themselves to authorities. More than 1,700 people who were previously missing have now been located.

Changing, intense winds exacerbated an already threatening fire. "We've been seeing a lot of really strong, erratic winds that can just make these fires go from something manageable to something that completely levels a town," Kaitlyn Trudeau, a senior research associate at Climate Central, told Wired. As climate change progresses, fire behavior is becoming more difficult to predict, and the result is fires that are harder for fire fighters to battle.1

Emergency crews believed they had contained a small brush fire, and left the site where the fire that devastated Lahaina began. Hours later, the situation had spiraled out of control. Officials believed it was "100 percent contained," The New York Times reported this week, but local residents noticed the fire still appeared active later in the day on Aug. 8. "It was a blowtorch, blowing sideways and pushing the fire house-to-house faster than anyone could extinguish it," Hawaii Fire Fighters Association President Bobby Lee said.2

Maui County has sued Hawaiian Electric, and has alleged the energy company failed to maintain its electrical lines during the windstorm which fanned the fire. The lawsuit claims that the company was negligent because it did not preemptively cut power to its lines following warnings that conditions were ripe for a wildfire.3