Maui wildfires death toll at 96; as heat hampers search efforts

Maui fires become deadliest in modern US history

Davilynn Severson and Hano Ganer look for belongings through the ashes of their family's home on Friday in the aftermath of a wildfire in Lahaina, in western Maui, Hawaii. The Maui wildfires have been determined to be the deadliest in modern US history

The death toll from Maui’s wildfires, now at 96, is expected to rise as search teams comb through the island’s scorched ruins for human remains, according to Hawaii Gov. Josh Green.

“They know ultimately they will be sharing with our people that there have been more fatalities,” said Green, of the Federal Emergency Management Agency teams in Lahaina that are using trained canines to scout many areas, even though the dogs are finding conditions difficult because of lingering heat.

The fire that overcame Lahaina spread at a rate of “one mile every minute,” Green said, propelled by wind gusts of up to 81 miles per hour and inflicting an estimated $5.6 billion worth of damage.

Anthony M. La Puente, 44, recovers items from his house in Lahaina. Paula Ramon/AFP via Getty Images

Green said, “There is a lot to share. There is a lot of information that people want. And to that end, I’ve authorized a comprehensive review of what happened in the early hours of the fire and hours thereafter.”

Maui is facing a compound disaster, where many different agents acted together to make the fires so horrific. As human influences on the climate and environment grow, the risk of such disasters is escalating.

Recent floods in Chinafires in Greece and deadly heat in the U.S. Southwest are other recent examples of how extreme weather, human-caused climate change and changes to the local environment can converge in devastating fashion.

The identification of remains will take time because of the severe damage sustained by the bodies, said Maui Police Chief John Pelletier, who asked those who are missing loved ones to submit DNA samples.

Burned cars, destroyed buildings and homes are pictured in the aftermath of a wildfire in Lahaina. Paula Ramon/AFP via Getty Images

Green said 35 additional members of an Urban Search and Rescue team are arriving at the disaster site — along with 20 dogs to help pick through the rubble.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell described the damaged region as something like “a scene from an apocalyptic movie.”

More than 2,700 structures have been destroyed in the town, a popular tourism destination on the western edge of the island of Maui, with the damage estimated at $5.6 billion, he said in a video update posted Sunday afternoon.

Maui County’s Department of Water Supply is advising people in the Lahaina and Upper Kula areas to continue not drinking water from the county’s supply, even if it has been boiled or treated.

Destroyed buildings and homes are pictured in the aftermath of a wildfire in Lahaina. Sebastien Vuagnat/AFP via Getty Images

Green also gave new details about the fires that burned on Maui last Tuesday. He said one fire was deemed out — but “must not have been completely extinguished.”

He said wind gusts were reported as high as 81 mph. The fire spread rapidly — traveling one mile every minute. He said that combined with those winds and the 1,000-degree temperatures, “ultimately all the pictures you see will be easy to understand.”

Green added, “that level of destruction in a fire hurricane — something new to us in this age of global warming — was the ultimate reason that so many people perished.”

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