As Lahaina Burned, Fire Crews Waited an Hour for Equipment

There were warnings of high wildfire danger in the days before a deadly blaze overtook the town of Lahaina in Hawaii last year, but the Maui Fire Department did little to get crews set in areas at risk and then struggled to launch firefighting vehicles once the blaze began consuming the town, according to an analysis of the wildfire released on Tuesday.

Some of the crews called up for duty reported that there were delays of up to an hour during the frantic effort to deploy them to the fire lines as workers struggled to gather equipment for their vehicles.

The after-action report, which looked back on the Maui County Fire Department’s response to a disaster that left 101 people dead, highlighted the decision to pursue “minimal upstaffing and prepositioning of resources” in the days before the fire despite the dire weather alerts.

The National Weather Service had issued a red-flag warning about the likelihood of high winds that could stoke a fire across the island’s dry grasslands. But firefighters and officials apparently found no reason to believe that the risk would be any greater than on other windy and dry days, according to the report.

The department did add some extra staffing on the morning of the fire — but even the added crews were not enough to handle a blaze that swept with astonishing speed through the heart of the town, leaving firefighters struggling to maintain adequate water supplies and lines of communication.

The Western Fire Chiefs Association, which conducted the investigation, recommended that the department use new technology that can monitor for areas of potential fire danger, and position firefighters and equipment in areas most at risk.

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