OAN’s Elizabeth Volberding
1:00 PM – Tuesday, February 6, 2024
A comprehensive preliminary report spanning 98 pages was made public by the Maui Police Department (MPD), detailing their reaction to one of the worst wildfires to ever strike the country.
Approximately six months after the severe wildfires that occurred in the coastal town of Lahaina, the MPD released an after-action investigation report detailing the cause of the fires and “32 [additional] recommendations.”
On Monday during a news conference, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier revealed the report and began the meeting with a moment of silence to remember victims who died in the August 8th, 2023, wildfires.
“Just last week, we were able to bring closure to the last family. That has never happened before. At two months out, we had all but one person identified,” said Chief Pelletier, giving credit to investigators, doctors and forensic experts from around the globe that were embedded in the industry.
“The work that was done by the Maui Police Department, by the other first responders, and by the by the members of this community is the tip of the spear, it is unprecedented, and it is best practices,” Pelletier added.
There are three remaining victims who are currently reported as “unaccounted for” from the August 8th wildfires. Their names are Robert H. Owens, Elmer Lee Stevens, and Paul Kasprysycki.
“The investigations remain open and any new leads or information that is brought to us, we will pursue,” explained Officer Brad Taylor. “Since the investigation, we have reached out to the family members, searched for eyewitness accounts of where they might have been, and then we looked at a map and with what we knew about their mobility, we created strategies of where they might have escaped to, and then we sent anthropological teams to go to those estimated escape routes.”
The “winds that ignited the fires” caused a cascade of chaos for the police, according to the police department, which concluded that the flames were caused by “severe weather.”
The dry vegetation and strong winds reportedly prompted the fires to spread quickly throughout the island.
According to the report, as the fires spread, its destructive power created black smoke that hindered multiple evacuations and disrupted power lines which made communication almost impossible.
An intense search for victims that went all the way to the coast’s ocean added to the tragedy. The fire’s emergency response was impacted by extreme conditions and widespread confusion, as reported by the officers’ accounts in the report and the body camera footage.
The MPD report included 32 recommendations for how the department could respond more effectively in the event of a similar emergency or natural disaster in the future. Some of the recommendations included “enhancing communication between responding officers” and other emergency personnel, as well as implementing “stronger equipment.”
“In policing, we respond to dynamic and evolving situations,” Pelletier said in the report. “We cannot control the incidents we respond to; we can, however, control our responses in the aftermath.”
“During the hours of August 8th, 2023, Maui became the stage for the most tragic natural disaster in state history and the deadliest fire in modern American history,” Pelletier said. “In the days and months since this incident, the Maui Police Department has worked uncompromisingly to detail our response.”
The majority of the report’s recommendations called for more advanced equipment and technology, such as providing radio earpieces for police so that they could hear more clearly. It also noted outfitting each supervisory police car with a breaching kit in order for debris to be removed.
The report, which was examined by two outside law enforcement organizations, will be made available to law enforcement organizations nationwide as a tool for disaster planning and response. At the press conference, Pelletier stated that the report would be fully completed in “six to twelve months.”
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