Fewer people died in Maui fires than previously believed

Fewer people than previously believed died in the fires that ripped through Maui in August, the governor of Hawaii said in a video update on Friday.

The death toll has been revised downward to 97, he said.

“Thank God,” Gov. Josh Greene said, “fewer people passed away.”

Previously, the official government number of deaths connected to the fires, which were stoked by an unusual and powerful wind event, was 115, according to the Maui Police Department.

Green suggested there still may be more confirmed deaths as investigators check out missing persons reports. He said 31 cases have yet to be concluded, though not all have been identified as lost or missing.

He said that the state Department of Defense and its anthropologists have been working to get a more accurate count.

The fires emerged on Aug. 8 amid an unusual confluence of weather, including Hurricane Dora’s lateral move south of the Hawaiian Islands, a high pressure system normally associated with hot days to the north, and unusually strong trade winds that may have been supercharged by the other phenomena.

“The presence of a strong high-pressure area to north of the island and Hurricane Dora to the south may have helped fuel the winds,” stated an analysis by the NASA’s Earth Observatory.

Officials said in the aftermath that there may have been little first responders and emergency operations officials could have done to stop the flames as they raced east, trapping an estimated 14 fleeing residents in ocean waters along Maui’s western coast.

“Having seen that storm, we have doubts that much could have been done with a fast-moving fire like that,” Green said in August.

A nearly 2,200-acre fire, the largest of the three that compose the Maui blazes, decimated the historic community of Lahaina, the Hawaiian kingdom’s one-time capital. An estimated 2,207 structures in Lahaina and West Maui were destroyed or damaged, Maui County officials said.

Even with the reduced death toll figure, the collective fires remain the most deadly fire event in the last 100 years in the United States, surpassing California’s 2018 Camp Fire and its 85 fatalities.

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