County officials hosted the first in a series of public meetings to update residents on wildfire recovery efforts and improve communication.

Maui homeowners and renters with uninsured or underinsured property damage from the Aug. 8 wildfires now have until Dec. 9 to apply for federal disaster assistance.

With Thursday’s deadline looming, government officials made the announcement Wednesday evening during the first in a new series of disaster recovery community updates at the Lahaina Civic Center.

The FEMA housing assistance funds are paid directly to eligible individuals and households to provide rental assistance, reimbursement for lodging expenses, and home repair and replacement assistance.  

Maui Emergency Management Agency interim head Darryl Oliveira talked with Lahaina residents following Wednesday's meeting at the Lahaina Civic Center. (Christie Wilson/Civil Beat/2023)
Maui Emergency Management Agency interim head Darryl Oliveira talked with Lahaina residents following Wednesday’s meeting at the Lahaina Civic Center. (Christie Wilson/Civil Beat/2023)

FEMA Regional Administrator Bob Fenton said the extension to Dec. 9 matches the deadline for homeowners, renters and businesses to apply to the U.S. Small Business Administration for low-interest disaster loans for physical property damage. Businesses with economic losses have until May 10 to apply for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan.

Fenton said 3,400 of the displaced had received at least two months’ rental assistance at fair-market rates, with extensions possible in three-month increments for up to 18 months at an increased rate of 175% of fair-market rents, in recognition of Maui’s escalating rents and shortage of available units.

FEMA also is expecting “hundreds of units” to become available in the next couple of weeks for longer-term housing for those who have been temporarily sheltered in hotels, as the agency negotiates with the vacation rental market to provide units that FEMA can directly sublease to fire survivors, he said.

Some 1,500 of the displaced have been identified as eligible for that program, according to Fenton.

The county-hosted recovery update meeting was the first of four to be held in Lahaina on consecutive Wednesdays throughout November, led by Maui Emergency Management Agency interim Director Darryl Oliveira.

In a Facebook video posted Tuesday, Oliveira said the meetings were designed to “just do a better job of getting the word out as far as the progress and the efforts being made” to help the roughly 8,000 people affected by the Aug. 8 disaster.

“We’d like to really come out and share more and be more open and transparent with the community about what we’re doing and get their feedback,” he said.

An assortment of agency representatives offered brief updates of their respective activities during the hourlong meeting, with the 300 or so in attendance able to speak individually with officials afterward. 

Hawaii Insurance Commissioner Gordon Ito shared preliminary data collected from more than 200 insurers showing $1.3 billion in estimated residential property losses in West Maui, with $660.5 million paid out by insurers as of Sept. 30. Another $25.3 million was estimated in personal vehicle losses, with $21.7 million in payouts. 

Kawika and Keri Kiesling said they went to the meeting to get information on when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would be wrapping up Phase 1 hazardous household waste removal from burned areas and when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be starting Phase 2 removal of structural ash and debris, since they are eager to rebuild their home in the Villages at Leiali‘i, one of only two residences in the Hawaiian homestead subdivision destroyed in the wildfire.

In the meantime, they have been staying with relatives in Wailuku with their three children, ages 4, 7 and 9.

“We’re trying to be patient because we know that a lot of people have it harder than we do, like some people don’t have family to live with,” said Kawika Kiesling, 42. “She still has her job and I’ve been able to rebuild our business in a temporary location but there’s a lot of people who don’t have work, they don’t have a place to live, they don’t have any security, they’re afraid they’re going to get kicked out at any moment, and so that affects our community, people that we know and love.” 

Fellow Leiali‘i resident Victoria Aiwohi, 84, did not lose her abode but came to the meeting hoping to learn more about the soot and ash that’s been infiltrating her home.

“The house is a mess. I just wanna know what’s going on,” she said. “The soot smells bad, especially if it rains, and then when the wind blows soot comes in through cracks.” 

Tara Fitzgerald, the EPA’s Maui wildfire response incident commander, reported that Phase 1 hazardous waste removal in Lahaina was 92% completed, with the remaining residential parcels to be cleared by early next week and all parcels, including commercial properties, to be done by Thanksgiving.

Soiltac soil stabilizer so far has been applied to 34% of affected Lahaina properties to prevent runoff and potentially toxic ash from going airborne, Fitzgerald said, with the spraying moving closing to coastal areas in the burn zones “so ash is not able to erode into the ocean.”

She said “very windy” conditions remain a concern and that the EPA is applying Soiltac “as fast and safely and respectfully as possible” while working with cultural monitors throughout the process.

Lahaina resident Jeremy Delos Reyes discusses his concerns about the timing of the EPA's application of Soiltac soil stabilizer on his Ainakea Drive property during Wednesday's Nov. 8, 2023meeting at the Lahaina Civic Center. (Christie Wilson/Civil Beat/2023)
Lahaina resident Jeremy Delos Reyes, left, talked with Maui Mayor Richard Bissen about the timing of the EPA’s application of Soiltac soil stabilizer on his Ainakea Road property during Wednesday’s meeting at the Lahaina Civic Center. (Christie Wilson/Civil Beat/2023)

Her comments that the agency is coordinating with the county to ensure Soiltac is applied no sooner than 48 hours before burn zones are open for re-entry to property owners were interrupted by a profane rebuke from Jeremy Delos Reyes at the back of the audience.

He said he had photos showing that Soiltac was applied to his Ainakea Road property less than 48 hours before re-entry was allowed by the county Oct. 27, and that it was still wet when he visited.

Oliveira said at the start of the meeting there had been some timing errors made in applying Soiltac and that he took full responsibility for the actions and would straighten matters out.

Following Delos Reyes’ outburst, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen, who offered brief remarks to open the meeting, quietly walked over to the Lahaina resident and the two spoke at length while the presentations continued.

Fitzgerald went on to say the Maui wildfires were the first time the EPA had worked with cultural monitors on Phase 1 activities and the first time in a wildfire response that hazardous waste crews had encountered so many lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles, which remain “extremely dangerous” after being exposed to fire.

During her time, Kathleen Ho, deputy director for environmental health at the Hawaii Department of Health, reported that to date more than 40 air-quality monitors and sensors had been installed and that more would be added in the Lahaina area.

She said separate sensors near the Lahaina Civic Center and Lahainaluna High School on Wednesday showed conflicting readings in the “green” and “yellow” range. After further investigation it was discovered that the “yellow” readings were a result in one case of an insect flying into one of the sensors and flapping its wings, and in the other of interference by blowing leaves, demonstrating that “all kinds of activities” could cause sensors to register in the yellow range.

Ho also said DOH is preparing for Phase 2 debris removal in Lahaina by installing air monitors in Kula that will track how ash and dust moves through the air during the work, which got underway this week at Upcountry homes burned in separate Aug. 8 wildfires.

Fire survivors can apply for FEMA disaster assistance by visiting, using the FEMA mobile app, calling the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 or visiting disaster recovery centers in Kahului and Lahaina.

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

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