The death toll from the wildfires that tore across Maui this week is expected to rise as residents who escaped the flames in the town of Lahaina begin to return to what’s left of their homes, most of which were burned to the ground.
"Lahaina, with a few rare exceptions, has been burned down," Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said Thursday after touring the devastation. "Without a doubt, it feels like a bomb was dropped on Lahaina."
At least 67 people are confirmed dead, and Green said the total number of fatalities was likely to exceed the state record of 61 who died in a tsunami on the Big Island in 1960. Cadaver-sniffing dogs were brought in to assist in the search for remains.
At least 1,700 structures in Lahaina were destroyed or heavily damaged by the wildfires, which began Tuesday and quickly spread due to abnormally dry conditions and winds from Hurricane Dora as it passed hundreds of miles to the south, forcing thousands in the tourist hot spot to make desperate escapes.
More coverage of the wildfires on Yahoo News
The U.S. Coast Guard said Wednesday that it had rescued more than 50 people who jumped into the Pacific Ocean to escape the flames.
Survivors told the Associated Press that Hawaii’s famous emergency warning system, which consists of 400 sirens positioned across the island chain, didn’t alert them as fires raced toward their homes, and they realized they were in danger only when they saw the approaching fires.
Hawaii emergency management records show no indication that warning sirens sounded before people ran for their lives.
“They were basically self-evacuating, with fairly little notice,” Maui Fire Department Chief Brad Ventura said, according to the AP.
Earlier this week, President Biden approved a disaster declaration for Hawaii to unlock federal aid for those affected by fires.
“Our prayers are with the people of Hawaii,” he said Thursday. “But not just our prayers — every asset we have will be available to them.”