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How Lahaina wildfires ‘started with downed powerline’ before road barricades and lack of warnings left thousands with no way out as inferno razed historic Maui town to the ground

  • A wildfire that started at 6.40am on Tuesday, August 8 is thought to have grown into the inferno which killed at least 99 people and left Lahaina in ruins
  • The blaze was initially brought under control but a flareup then spread rapidly
  • Residents say the combination of road closures and a lack of warnings turned the historic town into a ‘death trap’

Shane Treu was repairing the roof of his Lahaina home at around 6.30am on Tuesday, August 8 when he heard a powerline ‘pop’ and spark a blaze that is thought to have developed into the deadly wildfires which killed at least 99 people.

Heavy winds from a hurricane hundreds of miles from Maui had damaged the line, which was ‘laying on the ground and sparking’, said Treu, who dialed 911 to report the fire before filming the blaze with his cell phone.

Firefighters arrived about 12 minutes later and by 9am, officials said it had been ‘100 percent contained’. But within a few hours, there was a ‘flareup’ which spiraled out of control.

Residents claim that what followed, including the closure of Lahaina Bypass – a key route into and out of the town – after the flareup, turned the area into a ‘death trap’ which may have cost lives.

As heavy winds caused the wildfire to spread into Lahaina at speeds of up to a mile per minute, fleeing residents were forced onto Front Street, a narrow road which quickly became congested. Some in the town were not even aware of the deadly conflagration growing around them after warning sirens failed to sound.


Even by 3.30pm on Tuesday, when strong winds were whipping up a fierce firestorm in Lahaina, resident Mike Cicchino had no idea of the danger growing around him.

His power had been out all day and so he decided to drive to the local hardware store for a generator. As soon as he turned off his street, he was confronted with ‘pandemonium’.

‘I see people running and grabbing their babies and screaming and jumping in their cars,’ Cicchino said. He did a U-turn, ran into his house and told his wife they needed to leave: ‘We need to go! We need to get out of here now!’

There were no sirens, no one with bullhorns, no one to tell anyone what to do: They were on their own, with their families and neighbors, to make split-second life or death decisions about whether to stay or to run, and where to run to — through smoke so thick it blinded them, flames closing in from every direction, cars exploding, toppled power lines and uprooted trees, fire whipping through the wind and raining down

They ran to the car with five dogs and called police, and a dispatcher said to follow the traffic. Access to the main highway in and out of Lahaina was cut off by barricades set up by authorities after the flareup.

The roadblocks forced the line of cars onto Front Street.

‘We’re all driving into a death trap,’ Cicchino thought. He told his wife: ‘We need to jump out of this car, abandon the car, and we need to run for our lives.’

They got the dogs out. But it was impossible to know which way to run.

‘Behind us, straight ahead, beside us, everywhere was on fire,’ Cicchino said. It had been less than 15 minutes since he left his house, and he thought it was the end. He called his mother, his brother, his daughter to tell them he loved them.

The black smoke was so thick they could see only the white dogs, not the three dark ones, and they lost them. Propane tanks from a catering van exploded.

He joined swathes of people who desperately jumped over a seawall and into the ocean.

There were terrifying scenes as dozens of people spent hours in the choppy waters, amidst a storm of flames, ash and smoke around them.

Cicchino ran up and down the seawall, shouting his lost dogs’ names. He saw dead bodies slumped next to the wall. ‘Help me,’ people screamed. Elderly and disabled people couldn’t make it over the wall on their own.

Some were badly burned, and Cicchino lifted as many as he could. He ran until he vomited from the smoke, his eyes nearly swollen shut.

Photographs and footage captured at the height of the fires reveal how the brushfires allegedly sparked by the downed powerlines earlier that day grew into one of the most devastating wildfires America has ever experienced.

Lahaina residents have now filed a suit against Hawaiian Electric claiming it is responsible for the fires after failing to shut off power lines despite warnings from the National Weather Service that high winds could blow those lines down and spark fast-spreading wildfires.

Hawaii authorities were painstakingly working on Tuesday to identify 99 confirmed victims of the horrific wildfires in Maui amid warnings the death toll is likely to double as search efforts continue.


The blaze that swept into centuries-old Lahaina last week destroyed nearly every building in the town of 13,000.

Around 86 percent of the roughly 2,200 ruined buildings were residential and the value of wrecked property has been estimated at more than $5 billion.

Full story: Daily Mail, August 15, 2023

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