Hawaiian firefighters left Lahaina to combat other fires after declaring they had contained a brushfire hours before the blaze reignited and took the town, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The firemen originally determined that the brushfire would no longer pose a threat to Lahaina because they had apparently extinguished the flames, but the smoldering remains soon flared back up in the roaring winds and dry conditions, according to the LA Times. With no one left to combat the flames, the fire quickly consumed the entire town and many of the fleeing residents who were trapped in their cars by traffic.
“There was a little bit of smoke here and there, but it was pretty much out,” Kimo Clark, a resident who helped the firefighters at the initial scene, said, according to The New York Times. “You cannot contain every piece of burning root and wood. It’s like coal. It would have to rain and flood to put all that out.”
Containment means that the fire is still burning but is surrounded by a barrier that should prevent the spread, the NYT reported. But Brad Ventura, the Maui fire chief, later claimed that the flames were completely extinguished at the time, meaning that the fire was completely out and not burning at all.
“On August 8th at 7 a.m. there was a fire that was under control in Lahaina and the crews that were assigned to that fire were able to contain it,” Ventura told Maui Now. “They were able to walk the whole fire and extinguish the area within the fire. They sat on that fire until 1 o’clock in the afternoon with no activity on that fire.”
Michael Guerin, a former assistant director at California’s Office of Emergency Services, said that it is typically emergency protocol to not leave the fire site for several days, according to the LA Times.
“You stay not just until it looks like it’s out, but you’ve had a day or two of it looking like it’s out,” Guerin said, according to the LA Times.
Some Lahaina survivors believe that the fire spread because firefighters did not follow this standard procedure, the LA Times reported. Juan Advincula, one of the residents who saw the blaze reappear, said that the fire quickly rekindled just an hour or so after the firemen left the scene.
“I’m the first one to say they were doing a good job — until they left the place unattended,” Advincula said, according to the LA Times. “Then that’s when everything went kaput.”
By 5:45 p.m. on Aug. 8, trapped residents were jumping in the ocean to escape the flames that had begun to engulf their homes and cars, just hours after the firefighters had declared the blaze “contained,” according to the LA Times.
1,100 people remain missing in the aftermath of the Maui wildfires, according to The Associated Press.
The Maui Fire Department did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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