Sep. 17—Two more names were added to the list of those killed in the Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfire, as Maui County and federal investigators and forensic experts continue to whittle down the number of dead and unaccounted-for.
The Maui Police Department on Saturday released the names of Lahaina residents Michael Gordon, 68, and Carole Hartley, 60, and so far has been able to notify the families of 67 of the 97 currently known fatalities. Another seven have been formally identified but their families had yet to be notified.
The death toll was revised downward Friday from 115 after DNA analysis and other factors indicated some of the remains believed to have come from separate individuals were actually from a single person. However, officials warned that the number could rise as experts with the Maui County medical examiner's office and the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency continue their work.
Also Friday, the FBI's vetted list of unaccounted-for individuals was reduced to 31 names, down from 66 the previous week. In the immediate aftermath of the fire, more than 3,200 people were reported missing.
Hartley's family confirmed her death just a few days after the Aug. 8 disaster, saying she had tried to flee the fast-moving flames but became separated from her partner in the thick smoke and chaos. Her remains were found on the property where she lived in Lahaina town.
The free-spirited Hartley was a surfer and scuba instructor. Her older sister, Donna Gardner Hartley, told CNN, "My little sister has always looked for the good in people and always helped others. She will be missed by all that knew her for her fun personality, her smile and adventures."
Earlier last week, MPD named Lahaina resident Maurice Buen, 79, as among those killed in the fire.
After five up-and-down weeks of an exhaustive search for her father, Kimberly Buen was visited Tuesday at her home in Palmdale, Calif., by two FBI agents with news that his remains had been recovered and formally identified through DNA analysis. MPD released his name to the public Wednesday.
Maurice "Shadow" Buen lived at Piilani Homes on Wainee Street, a 42-unit Hawaii Public Housing Authority complex for older residents. The longtime sports fisherman and Korean War Army veteran had poor eyesight, suffered from diabetes and used a walker or motorized scooter to get around.
He earned his nickname as a youngster from following his father and brothers around "like a little shadow," his daughter said. As a kupuna, folks around Lahaina knew him as "Uncle Shadow."
For 40 years of his life he worked on charter sportfishing boats, and in the days following the deadly wildfire, Kimberly Buen, 55, heard from a good number of people who had gone fishing with him.
"He was all about that," she said. "One of my dad's phrases was, 'Shadow knows.' Throughout the year he would know where to find the fish. When somebody charters they're always tourists from out of town, and you want to give them that experience, and my dad was knowledgeable about the time of year and where to go and take the boats.
"For him, he would tell me it was all about the tips," she laughed.
Since customers rarely took their catch with them, the elder Buen would share the fish with friends and restaurants in Lahaina. "He got his meals cooked for him," his daughter said. "That pretty much was my dad's life — it was just on the ocean."
Her father also liked to talk story and never came up short.
"My dad always had plenty of stories and had quite the personality for one-liners, like 'Shadow knows' and 'If you're not busy, look busy.' He would always have something to say."
'Still not finished'
Before being notified of her father's death, Buen had spent the previous weeks on the phone getting bounced between Maui police, the FBI, the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other sources, she said, "sending me on a loop" in her search to find him.
Complete strangers often proved more helpful, including a woman who saw Buen's social media posts and volunteered to go to the emergency evacuation shelter at War Memorial Gym in Wailuku to look for him. Buen later heard from one of his classmates who also lost a loved one in the Lahaina fire and is now sharing information with her from the county morgue.
Buen's remains were located Aug. 9 less than a mile from his home, leaving his family to wonder whether he tried to escape the firestorm on foot with his walker, since his scooter was found in his unit. His daughter replays different scenarios in her mind of what his final minutes may have been like — whether he was trying to reach the ocean, as so many others trapped by the ferocious flames did, or if he might have been better off staying at his unit at Piilani Homes.
"For me, at first I thought once they recovered him it was going to finally calm down, but I'm in the aftermath of it now," she said.
That includes dealing with the formalities of getting her father's remains and any belongings found with him released to his family, as well as all the usual matters people must contend with when a loved one dies, such as contacting banks, the Social Security Administration and other entities he had dealings with.
"Before, it was all about searching and finding him, but I feel like I'm still in it," she said. "I'm still feeling like I just lost my dad, but now there's the legalities of it all. My dad can be laid to rest, we know where he is now, but it's still not finished."
Air quality 'reassuring'
As Maui County prepares to allow Lahaina property owners and residents to reenter areas cleared of hazardous materials on a zone-by-zone basis, the state Department of Health announced Friday what it called "reassuring" results from preliminary air sampling and air monitoring conducted in Lahaina and Upcountry Maui, where fires also broke out Aug. 8 in Olinda and Kula.
"The results do not show evidence of poor air quality or any hazardous levels of contaminants in the air at the time the samples were collected," DOH said in a news release.
The department has been working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to analyze preliminary, unvalidated data from baseline air monitoring conducted by the EPA in the two regions.
"The preliminary data indicate that air quality around wildfire impacted areas in Lahaina and Upcountry Maui are free of hazardous levels of contaminants," said Health Director Dr. Kenneth Fink in the release. "It's critical to remember that air monitoring is indicative of the ambient air quality, and high winds or cleanup activities could cause dust and ash to become airborne."
Officials are urging anyone entering the burn zones to wear an N95 mask or other type of high-quality mask and other personal protective equipment. "Precautions should also continue to be taken in nearby areas should the air quality change due to disturbed ash from an impacted area," Fink said.
Following the wildfires, the EPA and DOH installed 13 real-time PM2.5 sensors in Lahaina and Upcountry Maui to scan for very fine, dust-like particulate matter, or PM2.5, the release said.
"Contaminants of concern, such as metals like lead or arsenic, stick to the pieces of ash and dust that register as particulate matter. Because of this, air monitoring for PM2.5 can be used as an indicator for contaminant monitoring. If PM2.5 measurements are not above typical baseline levels (remain in the green zone) then ash and dust from the impacted areas, with their associated contaminants, are not in the air in any measurable amount that would be considered harmful," the release said.
Air quality data can be viewed at the AirNow Fire and Smoke Map at fire.airnow.gov.
The county on Monday is expected to identify the first zones in the disaster area cleared for reentry. Property owners and residents in those zones will be contacted before the process for acquiring reentry passes begins Friday.
Escorted visits into the zones are expected to start Sept. 25, with the county providing personal protective equipment.
New donation site
A new West Maui Distribution Center opened Friday at Kahana Gateway, offering food, supplies and other necessities to those affected by the Lahaina wildfire.
The site is being managed by Global Empowerment Mission, a philanthropic nonprofit "dedicated to delivering disaster relief, humanitarian assistance and sustainable development solutions to communities in crisis," according to a county news release, in partnership with community leaders.
Maui Mayor Richard Bissen and Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke were among those present for the traditional Hawaiian blessing and opening of the distribution site, which "will remain open in West Maui for however long the community needs it," the release said.
Formerly at the Lahaina Gateway shopping center, the new West Maui Distribution Center at Kahana Gateway is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Volunteers are needed to help sort and distribute donations. For more information on volunteering or donating items, visit mauinuistrong.info.