Maui wildfires: How did the wildfires begin and why were they so deadly?

As the search for the dead continues, a search for answers begins. ITV News Correspondent Peter Smith, US Producer Will Tullis, and US Camera Operator and Editor Mark Davey report from Maui.

There is little left of Lahaina.

The fire consumed people's homes, now toxins have contaminated the water supply of Western Maui. It’s unsafe to drink, or even to wash with it.

There is no electricity, no phone signal, and no signs of life.

A whole town has been incinerated.

On a hill overlooking Lahaina, we find one man trying to get some sort of mobile signal to contact his family.

“At this point we really do need help,” Lloyd Cabanilla tells me. He has lived in Lahaina, Hawaii’s ancient royal capital, his whole life.

“The town is gone. I’m heartbroken. People I know, that I care about are still unaccounted for. I think at this stage, if anyone is still not accounted for, they’re gone.”

ITV News Correspondent Peter Smith delivers the latest from Lahaina

As the search for bodies continues, a search for answers now begins.

We know strong winds were battering west Maui. Telephone poles and power lines collapsed onto the dry grasslands, and a spark quickly escalated into America’s deadliest wild fire for over a century.

Lloyd tells us he was there watching from the road as the fire started and then spread.

Lloyd Cabanilla has lived in Lahaina his whole life. Credit: ITV News

“I saw there was a fire beside the telephone pole,” he says.

“The fire brigade put it out, and they must have thought it was contained because they then left.

“But around two hours later it started back up again.

“Then it began catching the houses, and the cars. The wind was 80 miles per hour, pushing the fire - it was spreading fast.”

Lloyd’s eye-witness account helps provide much-needed answers.

There is focus now on the wasteland from abandoned sugarcane plantations that surrounded Lahaina. Tonnes of dry grass that ultimately provided fuel for the fire.

We also know that there was no evacuation warning to give residents a chance to flee on time.

The town has 80 sirens, but all remained silent - even when the flames were right upon the homes of Lahaina.

The Governor of Hawaii, Josh Green, says an investigation into why the systems failed is underway. He has already, in part, blamed global warming.

The blazes that consumed most of the historic town of Lahaina are already the deadliest in the US in more than a century. Credit: AP

But survivors of the fire have also blamed human incompetence, and years of Hawaii officials ignoring the warning signs.

Lahaina had a close call with fire in 2018, which exposed the lack of fire-breaks in a residential area surrounded by dry grass.

It also highlighted the need for more robust evacuation planning.

Lahaina survivor Chyna Lee Colorado tells me the lack of disaster preparedness has cost lives.

“This was absolutely preventable,” she says. “And it is all down to a lack of planning.”

The town of Lahaina was razed. Credit: AP

Chyna tells me what happened in Lahaina was not a natural disaster, it was a man-made disaster, and it was waiting to happen.

“You have fallow sugar cane fields that are dry with no fire breaks.

“The wooden telephone poles on the road are rotting and they fall over in even less strong winds than this.

“There should have been a requirement for the Hawaii authorities to learn lessons after the fires in 2018 and at least to put in fire breaks.

“That was a missed warning. The 2018 fire should have been a chance to fix things.

“I want accountability - this fire destroyed more than half of the people we know.

“Everything is ruined. Generations of families have been lost.”

Women hug after digging through rubble of a home destroyed by a wildfire. Credit: AP

An entire community has gone - the scale of destruction is horrifying. How many of the missing are buried beneath the rubble is still unknown.

Eye-witness testimony has at least helped piece together how this fire happened. But not why. Why did evacuation sirens fail to sound? Why were years of warnings about fire risks ignored?

For now, ashes and anger are all that’s left in Lahaina.

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