Updated Aug 14, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Maui fire becomes deadliest in over a century, at least 111 killed

An aerial image taken Tuesday shows the devastation of Maui's wildfires on cars, buildings and homes. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Destructive wildfires on Hawai'i's Maui Island have killed at least 111 people, marking the deadliest American wildfire in over 100 years.

The big picture: The wildfires are now the deadliest since California's Camp Fire in 2018, which killed at least 85 people. Hawai'i Gov. Josh Green told CNN Monday "the numbers will go up significantly in the coming days."

  • Green has ordered a review into the Lahaina fire on Maui, the deadliest since 1918's Cloquet fire in northern Minnesota killed 453 people.

State of play: Rep. Jill Tokuda (D-Hawai'i), whose district includes the historic town of Lahaina that the wildfires destroyed much of, walked through the area with FEMA officials Saturday.

  • "It was shocking — surreal," Tokuda said on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday.
  • "We've heard all these words, but to actually walk those streets and to still see fires smoldering in the distance, to see cars literally melted into puddles that have hardened over on the road, Xs on buildings and cars to say that it has been searched for signs of casualties or even life," she added.
  • The Lahaina fire was 85% contained Sunday. Maui officials said Saturday they were working to extinguish flare-ups across Lahaina and parts of Upcountry Maui.
  • Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said Monday only 20% of the search area had been cleared.

Zoom out: Green said the fire destroyed more than 2,700 structures in Lahaina and caused damages estimated at $5.6 billion.

  • The Pacific Disaster Center and FEMA estimated that 2,170 acres of Maui has burned, per a statement from Maui officials Saturday.
  • An estimated 4,500 residents had sought shelter, the center and FEMA also noted.
  • Water advisories are in effect on Maui's Lahaina and Upper Kula areas, after the fires damaged parts of the water system.

Details: A Saturday statement from the County of Maui said just two of the victims had been identified so far.

  • Identifying discovered remains is especially difficult, Pelletier said, in part because of the condition they are found in.
  • "When we find our family and our friends, the remains that we're finding is through a fire that melted metal," he said, adding that authorities were using rapid DNA tests to help expedite the process.
  • Pelletier also encouraged family member missing loved ones to take a DNA test to help generate matches with victims.
  • Teams were using cadaver dogs during the search. "One of the challenging things is, many of the areas that they're in searching, there's structures that are partially standing and so the engineers are embedded with them to evaluate the stability of that structure," FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell told CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday.

Context: Parts of Maui are experiencing severe drought and more flammable invasive plants in Hawai'i have exacerbated wildfire risk, per the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Go deeper: Before and after: Satellite images show Hawai'i wildfire devastation

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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