Hawai'i State News

Lāhainā Fire deadliest US wildfire since Cloquet blaze in 1918; death toll likely to rise

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During a media tour of downtown Lāhainā, devastation was everywhere. Aug. 12, 2023 (Photo by Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now)

With the official death toll rising to 89 on Saturday, the Lāhainā Fire became the deadliest US fire in the past century, surpassing the 85 who perished in the 2018 Camp Fire in California that destroyed the town of Paradise.

The last time a U.S. fire was deadlier was Minnesota’s Cloquet fire in 1918. It was caused by sparks on the local railroads and dry conditions, killing 453 people.

Sadly, Hawaiʻi Gov. Josh Green said Saturday during a news conference that the Lāhainā Fire death toll “is going to rise.”


The search for victims will continue, with more help arriving from FEMA urban search and rescue teams and 12 additional cadaver-sniffing dogs.

But as of Saturday, only 3% of the burned area of Lāhainā has been thoroughly searched by dogs, Pelletier said.

“Weʻre not done with 89,” he said. “So just understand what this thing is. None of us really know the size of it. Everyone wants a number. Do you want it fast or do you want it right? We are going to do it right.”

Hawaiʻi Gov. Josh Green details the recovery efforts of the Lāhainā Fire during a press conference on Aug. 12, 2023. (Photo by Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now)

To make sure everyone is found, Green, Pelletier and Maui Mayor Richard Bissen all reiterated that people need to stay out of the burned areas of Lāhainā.

“We’ve got an area that we have to contain that is at least five square miles and it is full of our loves ones,” Pelletier said.

“We know we got to go quick, but we got to do it right. When you pick up remains and they fall apart, and you have 200 people running through the scene [Friday], and some of them are you, that is what you are stepping on. I donʻt know how much more you want me to describe it. Thatʻs what you are stepping on.”


Of the 89 deceased who have been found, only two have been identified, Pelletier said.

“When we find our family and our friends, the remains we are finding is through a fire that melted metal,” he said. “We have to do rapid DNA to identify them. Everyone of these 89 are John and Jane Does.”

The Family Assistance Center is housed at the Kahului Community Center, 275 Uhu St. (Photo by Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now)

People who have a missing family member should go to the Family Assistance Center to do a DNA test.

“We need to identify your loved ones,” Pelletier said.

The center is at the Kahului Community Center located at 275 Uhu St.

Cammy Clark
Cammy Clark works for Maui Now, Big Island Now and Kauaʻi Now as an editor and news reporter. She has more than 35 years of journalism experience, previously working for the Miami Herald as the Florida Keys Bureau chief and sports writer, the Washington Post, St. Petersburg Times, United Press International, the Orange County Register and WRC-TV/George Michael Sports Machine. She grew up in New Hampshire and studied print journalism at American University in Washington, D.C., where she was the sports editor for the college newspaper, The Eagle.

Cammy can be reached at cammy.clark@pmghawaii.com.
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