Hawaii fires: the mistakes and lessons of the Maui crisis

José López Zamorano | La Red Hispana 
Photo Credit: Alexandre P. Junior / Pexels

The death of 111 people from the Maui wildfires cannot, must not be in vain. Questions abound and satisfactory answers are necessary.

  • Why were the warning sirens not activated or not activated?
  • Why didn’t the main power company turn off the power to prevent additional ignitions?
  • Why did President Biden take so long to visit the disaster area?

By regulation, a specialized National Response Team from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) must conduct a full investigation of the fires.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green conceded that mistakes may have been made due to the intensity of the moment, but suggested that climate change may have compounded the impact of those failures.

But the climatological explanation is not enough. If it is determined that there were errors, it is necessary that they be shared with society, that responsibilities be established and that action be taken in case of negligence or incompetence.

So far, we know that the head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, Herman Andaya, did not activate the sirens for fear that the population would mistake it for a tsunami warning and run in the wrong direction.

Andaya resigned “for health reasons,” but that does not invalidate a crucial question for the future: why isn’t there a clear civil protection protocol in an area surrounded by potential natural threats?

Hawaiian Electric is already facing a lawsuit filed by local residents over evidence of at least one fire caused by a tree falling on a transformer.

It should also be evaluated whether the assistance of federal authorities has been timely and whether the Biden administration acted quickly enough.

It is an irrefutable fact that preparation and readiness for natural disasters save lives. No effort should be spared.

Some cities around the world have taken exemplary actions to improve civil protection in the wake of unavoidable phenomena, such as earthquakes, fires, hurricanes or tornadoes. During a recent earthquake in California, the alert was timely activated. Mexico City has worked hard to create a seismic culture since the tragic earthquake of 1985.

The Maui victims are overwhelmingly native Hawaiians. History has taught us that climate tragedies hit minorities of color disproportionately. Reports have already emerged of unscrupulous people seeking to profit by buying land in the destroyed areas at ridiculous prices.

The federal government cannot allow the victims to be double victims, first of nature and then of the vultures that thrive on despair. They must act quickly and decisively on all fronts and learn the painful lessons of the tragedy.