State emergency officials have said they never received the report, which could have offered guidance on how to prevent the Aug. 8 blaze.

A much sought-after report that analyzes a 2018 Lahaina fire will be released to the public “soon,” Maui Mayor Richard Bissen’s spokeswoman Mahina Martin said Monday.

The 2018 fire had eerie parallels to the Aug. 8 blaze that killed at least 99 people in the historic coastal town, destroyed some 2,200 structures and scorched approximately 2,170 acres.  

No sirens were sounded, fire hydrants ran dry, and people were left to fend for themselves. No one died in the 2018 fire, but it destroyed 21 houses, 27 cars and more than 2,100 acres, causing an estimated $4.3 million in damage.

Maui County officials say they will release the after-action report from the 2018 Lahaina fire sometime “soon.” (Ku’u Kauanoe/Civil Beat/2023)

Given the similarities, members of the public and others have asked: what did the county learn from its fire response five years ago? And how is it possible that county officials apparently failed to take steps to learn from their 2018 mistakes like sounding sirens to alert the public?

Clues may lie in the pages of the after-action report, a review that governments typically create in the wake of a natural or manmade disaster. They’re done for everything from wildfires to mass shootings.

After-action reports provide a summary of events and critical information so that first responders and emergency managers can improve their responses to future disasters.

The reports consider things like weather conditions at the time of the incident, timelines for decisions, actions taken, assignments given, evacuation orders, incident command structure, resource management, and a host of other elements.

Civil Beat and other news outlets have repeatedly asked Maui County and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency for copies of the after-action report from the 2018 wildfire.

HIEMA recently told Civil Beat it has no record of such a report.

During a press conference Monday at the Lahaina Civic Center, Bissen, who took office in January, was asked if he knew whether the county’s after-action report existed, and if it did, would he make it public?

Martin, his spokesperson, responded for him, saying there are processes and procedures for reviewing public records’ requests for any after-action report.

Asked for more details after the news conference, Martin said she anticipated it would be released soon.

As far as a timeline of events at Maui County’s Emergency Operations Centers on Aug. 8, Martin said that’s currently being reviewed by county lawyers in the Department of the Corporation Counsel.

It’s been unclear exactly who was at the EOC and when and what actions were taken as the deadly fire raged through Lahaina.

Martin said some of those details have already been released, and the complete timeline will come out as part of the after-action report from the Aug. 8 fire or if Corporation Counsel attorneys decide to release it before then.

In the early weeks after the fire, calls for accountability mounted about what could have prevented the deaths of so many people in Lahaina. The mayor drew criticism after he said at a press conference that he didn’t know who was in charge on the day of the fire.

In a videotaped address on Aug. 31 to counter criticism of his crisis leadership during the disaster, Bissen said he and key members of his staff, including the managing director, chief of staff and chief of communications and public affairs were at the EOC, including “some until the next morning,” Bissen said.

Bissen didn’t say at the time whether he was among those who stayed till the next day. But at an Oct. 3 press conference, Bissen said he was there “until about 3 in the morning.”

Martin said she was among those who stayed at the EOC until the next day.

“I can tell you it was a long, a very long first few days,” she said.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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