August 12, 2023 Maui wildfire news

By Tori B. Powell, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer, Heather Chen and Andrew Raine, CNN

Updated 3:36 p.m. ET, August 13, 2023
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11:09 p.m. ET, August 12, 2023

Death toll from Maui fires hits 89 and is expected to increase

From CNN's Michelle Watson  

A man walks through wildfire damage on Friday in Lahaina.
A man walks through wildfire damage on Friday in Lahaina. Rick Bowmer/AP

The death toll from the Maui wildfires is now at 89, Hawaii Governor Josh Green said in a news conference Saturday.   

"You're all wondering what we saw on the ground today. There have been more fatalities," Green said. "There are 89 fatalities, that have been measured."  

Green said the death toll is expected to increase.  

9:46 p.m. ET, August 12, 2023

One runway at Kahului Airport set aside for relief supply shipments

From CNN’s Andy Rose

The Hawaii Department of Transportation (DOT) will set aside a runway at Kahului Airport, the primary airport on the island of Maui, to accommodate incoming relief supplies, official announced Saturday.

The closure will not affect commercial flights, the DOT said.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Runway 5/23 is 4,980 feet long and is primarily used by private aircraft.

Kahului is the only airport in Maui equipped to receive flights directly from the US mainland, according to the state government.

Thousands of travelers have been left stranded at the airport in the aftermath of the fires. Hawaiian government officials as well as aviation officials have been discouraging travel to Maui as rescue and relief efforts continue.

8:46 p.m. ET, August 12, 2023

State will not intervene in Lahaina traffic problems, Hawaii’s lieutenant governor says

From CNN’s Jessica Dean and Andy Rose

People wait in line at a checkpoint to gain access to Lahaina on Saturday, August 12, in Wailuku, Hawaii.
People wait in line at a checkpoint to gain access to Lahaina on Saturday, August 12, in Wailuku, Hawaii. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke says the state does not intend to intervene in traffic problems building up around Lahaina. Instead, Maui County officials will make those calls to protect public safety.

"I know individuals are very frustrated," Luke told CNN, saying she understood how people were upset by being unable to return to their homes and businesses. "There are structures that haven't been destroyed and individuals want to go back."

With the main highway going into Lahaina being opened and closed repeatedly with little warning, residents have voiced frustrations with trying to return to their homes and businesses.

Residents told CNN they were trying to bring in relief supplies, a process hampered by the limited traffic access.

Luke declined to weigh in on the debate over whether the state was sufficiently prepared for the disaster. "All the assessments and investigation will happen but really the priority is to make sure that people are fed and people have a place to stay," she said.

7:51 p.m. ET, August 12, 2023

Hawaii lieutenant governor says death toll is expected to rise

Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke said more deaths are likely after areas of Maui were ravaged by wildfires this week.

"The County of Maui is still doing its assessment, and our fear is that the death toll will continue to climb," she told CNN.

There have been at least 80 deaths so far, officials said on Friday.

Luke was also asked about criticism on the emergency response. The state's integrated outdoor siren warning system was not activated during the fires, according to Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency. Emergency communications with residents were largely limited to mobile phones and broadcasters at a time when most power and cell service was already cut.

"I think it's our responsibility to do an assessment and to figure out if there are certain things that could be avoided, how do we protect our citizens, how do we protect individuals who are on our islands. That's why I think the governor has called for an investigation by our attorney general's office to have a deep investigation of the Maui County initial response and also the entire response initially," she said.  

Luke said the review will look at the county, state and federal response, but the focus right now is on helping victims of the fires.

"We have a lot of work to do. We're still in the stage of locating individuals who are missing. We're in the middle of getting necessary food and water and supplies to many of the people who have lost their homes, have lost their businesses. This is a really difficult time, and all of the assessments and investigation will happen, but really the priority is to make sure that people are fed and people have a place to stay," she said.

7:57 p.m. ET, August 12, 2023

It's afternoon in Maui. Here's what you should know

From CNN staff

At least 80 people have died in this week's unprecedented wildfires in Hawaii, officials said Friday.

The fire in Maui's western community of Lahaina is 85% contained, according to the county. Southeast of Lahaina, near Kihei, the Pulehu fire is 80% contained, the county said, and the blaze burning in the central Upcountry area is 50% contained.

A photographer who documented the ongoing efforts by firefighters in Maui described an intense environment: Tree roots are burning under the ground, he told CNN.

Here's what else you should know:

Back-and-forth road closures: There have been several closings and re-openings of the primary route into Lahaina, Honoapi'ilani Highway, since yesterday. This morning, there were scores of people sleeping in their cars, waiting for the highway to reopen in a line of vehicles that stretched about a mile. After it was initially reopened to traffic early Friday, officials say the road was closed “due to individuals who went over barricades and closed-off areas and entered restricted, dangerous, active investigation scenes.” A restaurant owner from Lahaina said displaced residents "don't have anywhere to go," and that the highway is the only road in and out of the historic town.

Assessing the response: Hawaii has a robust emergency siren warning system, but it sat silent during the deadly wildfires, according to state officials. Hawaii's attorney general will lead a review of the emergency response to the fires, including the lack of sirens. Some residents who spoke to CNN this week said they feel like the state didn't do enough to warn them when the flames erupted, while others have said it was an impossible situation for authorities, and that residents associate the sirens with tsunamis, not wildfires.

Recovery efforts: More than a dozen federal agencies have been sent to Hawaii to assist in the recovery efforts, including FEMA, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Guard. The US Army Corps of Engineers deployed teams to help manage debris, set up temporary emergency power and consult officials on the recovery, a spokesperson told CNN. Tourism authorities say they're focused on helping visitors get out of Maui, so “attention and resources” can be focused on residents. The American Red Cross has also been active on the islands.

How to help: CNN Impact Your World is raising money to support relief efforts in Maui. Click here to help, or if you're looking to donate elsewhere, here's how to know your donation is going to a legitimate charity.

7:04 p.m. ET, August 12, 2023

Man called family to say goodbye before saving others and himself from the Maui wildfires

From CNN’s Jillian Sykes

Mike Cicchino, his wife and rescued dog. 
Mike Cicchino, his wife and rescued dog.  Mike Cicchino

Family members of Mike Cicchino believed he was going to die after he called them to say goodbye while fighting for his life in the Maui wildfires this week. He has since been reunited with his loved ones after a night he says was “something out of a disaster movie.”

After seeing the flames on Tuesday, the Lahaina resident and his wife grabbed five dogs they were taking care of and followed traffic heading south until they were trapped by closed roads.

“People were running for their lives in all directions because nobody knew where to go,” Cicchino told CNN. “We were surrounded by fire.”

During that time, Cicchino believed they were going to die, so he called his mom for a final goodbye.

“I called to tell her I love her and to please take care of my daughter,” who was with her mother at the time, Cicchino told CNN. “The last thing I said was, ‘This is where I’m at, I’m jumping in the water, and I don’t know if I’m going to make it.’”

Moments after that call, phone service dropped, and Cicchino lost all contact for several hours.

Meanwhile, his mom, Susan Ramos, had immediately called the US Coast Guard to alert them of the fire and her son’s location. 

A view of the wildfire from near the water.
A view of the wildfire from near the water. Mike Cicchino

While waiting on his own rescue, Cicchino was shepherding others to safety as his home of 16 years was consumed by fire. 

“I remember jumping the seawall and putting our shirts into the water to wrap around our faces and protect us from the smoke. Out in the ocean we kept getting hit by the embers, so we would hide underwater,” Cicchino said.

Nearly 60 other people were down in the water, filled with panic as they heard cars exploding nearby. 

Despite his eyes being nearly swollen shut by smoke, Cicchino left his wife in a safe space to go look for the dogs that got separated from them along the way. 

“While running down Front Street and calling out for the dogs, I heard people begging for help. I saw a couple dead bodies and checked their chests to see if they were breathing, but then had to move on to other people I could actually help,” Cicchino told CNN.

As Cicchino was moving people to safety by rocks right off the water, the Coast Guard contacted him asking for a headcount for life vests.

The Coast Guard boat couldn’t make it past a reef, leaving two members with surfboards to attempt the rescue of dozens, including children, the elderly and the injured.

The group panicked at the thought of having to go one by one and risk being separated from their loved ones. Eventually, firefighters made it to the scene, with Cicchino leading people 10 at a time to their rescue. 

On the last trip, Cicchino, his wife and two of the dogs settled in the bed of an emergency vehicle as firefighters sped off to a local triage center. 

Cicchino hugs his family after being reunited.
Cicchino hugs his family after being reunited. Mike Cicchino

Cicchino was hooked up to oxygen and was coughing up soot from smoke inhalation.

As things calmed down, he was able to get back in touch with his mom. They cried together on the phone. “All this time my mom thought I was dead,” Cicchino said.

He was reunited with his family at a nearby shelter just a few hours later. “I ran toward my mom and broke down as she hugged me,” he said.

Cicchino said he still has friends who are missing and that so far, four of the five dogs he evacuated with have been reunited with their owners. 

5:52 p.m. ET, August 12, 2023

Lahaina residents frustrated by confusion over access to the highway into town

From CNN’s Mike Valerio and Andy Rose

Giulietta and Steven Daiker speak to CNN's Mike Valerio on Saturday, August 12. 
Giulietta and Steven Daiker speak to CNN's Mike Valerio on Saturday, August 12. 

Residents of the wildfire-scorched community of Lahaina on Maui were met mostly with frustration Saturday as they tried to return to their homes and businesses. The main highway going into town has been opened and closed repeatedly with little warning.

Steven and Giulietta Daiker said they were nearly up to the main checkpoint after hours of waiting when they learned they were only going to be turned around. “They couldn't have told us that three miles back, or couldn't have been on a bullhorn or on the radio?” Steven asked. “This is just pathetic."

“It's not just frustration. It feels sickening,” Giulietta added.

Authorities have cited “individuals who went over barricades and closed-off areas and entered restricted, dangerous, active investigation scenes” in closing the roadway after initially reopening it.

Residents told CNN they are not only trying to see what is left of their community but also bringing in whatever relief supplies they can — a process hampered by lack of access.

“We took a load in by boat yesterday of supplies, and now I guess we're going to do that again,” pineapple farmer Todd Domeck said Saturday morning as he waited for traffic to move. “I've got a place that I can open up with power for people to stay, but I can't get to it.”

This time-lapse shows the long line of vehicles waiting to get into Lahaina on the Honoapi’ilani Highway on Saturday:

5:24 p.m. ET, August 12, 2023

Photographer who documented firefighters in Maui says tree roots are burning under the ground

A professional photographer who accompanied firefighters still battling the blazes in Maui said they have been "working around the clock" to keep the fires at bay.

"These guys have been working around the clock since Tuesday, you know, fighting these fires. A lot of them haven't slept," Daniel Sullivan told CNN.

Helicopters were dropping "hundreds of gallons of water, just trying to stay on top of it," he said.

"The winds are the real enemy up there, and luckily we had a couple calm days, which was good. So that kind of helped them to get on top of the fires. But these are big forest fires. This isn't something we're used to. And when these trees are so hot, what happens is, roots burn underneath," Sullivan said.  

"Under the ground, those roots are burning, and then it can just jump up anywhere. And you have these fires that would start, and you would think there's no fire there, but when you take the temperature of the soil, it's 180, 200 degrees in the soil because those roots are burning," he said.

Firefighters continue to battle three separate fires. The Lahaina fire that has claimed the lives of at least 80 people is 85% contained, the County of Maui said on Friday. Additionally, the Pulehu fire, southeast of Lahaina near Kihei, is 80% contained, the county said in a Facebook post around 3 p.m. local time (9 p.m. ET) Friday. And the fire in Upcountry Maui, the hilly center of the island where firefighters have struggled to access flames in ravines, is now 50% contained.

Sullivan said he grew up in New Orleans and compared what he is seeing in Maui to what the Louisiana city looked like after Hurricane Katrina hit. "lt's like Katrina, you know, it's wiped out. There's nothing left," he added.

4:53 p.m. ET, August 12, 2023

Here's how to know your wildfire relief donation is going to a legitimate charity

From CNN's Samantha Delouya

If you’re looking to donate money to help those affected by the wildfires in Hawaii, it’s important to follow certain steps to ensure your money is going to the right place.

Here are tips to make sure your donation is going to a legitimate charity:

How to pick the organization: Several sites help people find and support legitimate charities, including Charity NavigatorBBB Wise Giving Alliance and CharityWatch. Dig deeper into an organization’s reputation after finding a legitimate charity you’re considering supporting.

The US Federal Trade Commission suggests when conducting an online search of any charity, you should add the words “complaint,” “review,” “fraud,” or “scam” to the search terms. Doing this should bring up any bad reviews or red flags about the organization.

It’s also helpful to know if the group you’ve selected is registered as a 501(c)3, meaning it’s registered as a tax-exempt non-profit. Look up the organization in the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search. If the charity is a registered 501(c)3, you may want to save a record of your contribution since it’s tax deductible.

When you feel confident about making your donation, it’s best to use a credit card or check, since those types of payments are easily traceable. After contributing to a charity, review your bank account and credit card statements to ensure you’ve only been charged the agreed-upon amount.

Tips for donating through a platform like GoFundMe: When donating through a platform like GoFundMe, ActBlue or WinRed, make sure to check whether the site is keeping some of your donation as a processing fee.

For many crowdfunding sites, your money will first go directly to the crowdfunding organizer, and not necessarily the end-recipient of the donations. So double-check that the organizer will pass along the funds to the person or cause they claim to be supporting.

Be on the lookout for scams: Don’t let anyone rush you into donating on the phone on the spot; take time to do the proper research. Never donate with a wire transfer or gift card, which is difficult to track if something goes awry. Also, if an organization insists on a donation using cryptocurrency, another hard-to-track form of payment, that should set off alarm bells. Avoid sending funds from payment apps like Venmo or Zelle. Those apps should only be used to send money to people you know, since it’s difficult to recoup funds once someone receives them.

CNN Impact Your World is raising money to support relief efforts in Maui. Click here to help.

Read more on how to help Hawaii here.