Taking into consideration the safety and emotional well-being of people, Maui County announced its much-anticipated reentry plan into the five-square-mile impact zone of the deadly Aug. 8 Lahaina fire.
“The purpose and goal of the reentry plan is to help our residents, our business, with getting back to their property temporarily to see — and get some closure,” said Darryl Oliveira, interim administrator of Maui Emergency Management Agency. “For many of them, they have lost everything, included loved ones.”
During a press conference on Thursday in Wailuku, Oliveira outlined the plan, which includes escorts for the first two visits, provided personal protective gear and the support of mental health counselors, medical personnel and translators.
He said with the overwhelming devastation, the plan was designed to provide as much preparation and support to keep people safe and limit people from being “retraumatized” as much as possible. Some people who escaped the fire have yet to return to Lahaina.
The escorted reentry groups will begin Sept. 25, and operate from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., 7 days a week.
People will be able to look for personal items, although it is advised that the ash can be toxic. Gloves should be warn and every effort should be made to limit the disturbance of the ash.
Oliveira said the escorts will be respectful and mindful that for some people it will be a chance to grieve: “Some of them might be looking for closure by recovering personal effects, right down to if they lost a loved one who is unaccounted for, maybe the collection of something will give them closure.”
Property owners also will be able to bring insurance adjusters to help them with their claims.
Here’s the reentry timeline and how it will work:
- On Monday, the county will announce what zones will be the first to gain reentry, with property addresses provided for each zone. These zones will have been cleared of toxic material by the Environmental Protection Agency; and buildings still standing will have been inspected for structural integrity.
- By Sept. 22, people in those announced zones will be able to sign up for a reentry pass. The county will directly contact property owners and tenants, although property owners and tenants within those zones also can contact the county. This will also begin the preparation process before being assigned a date to reenter.
- On Sept. 25, the first group of people will be allowed back into the impact zone. Property owners and renters will be allowed to bring with them certain people, including insurance adjusters and faith-based leaders/clergy. But children, people with medical conditions and the elderly with health issues are are advised not to go into the area due to the possibility of toxins in the ash and possible poor air quality.
- As other zones are cleared, more property owners and renters will be notified and go through the same process. This will continue until all zones are cleared. It is not known yet when all zones will be cleared. As of Wednesday, about 464 properties of the 2,200 plus that had been destroyed had been cleared by the EPA. There are also other buildings that were damaged but not destroyed. The EPA began its work Aug. 26.
For a map of the zones in the impacted area and other reentry information, click here. Oliveira said reentry access is not being done in a numerical order but as zones are cleared.
For the first two visits, residents and businesses will be escorted into the area, with mental health counselors, medical personnel and translators providing support. Property owners and renters will be able to return on their own after that.
People will be told about the hazards, as far as the dust and air-borne particulate, and have access to a disposable Tyvek coverall, booties and a respirator or N95 mask. Water and portable bathrooms also will be available.
Some structures will not be structurally safe, especially multi-level buildings. Oliveira warned that some people will not be able to go into their homes if they are unsafe.
The EPA is removing easily identified hazardous items such as paint, fertilizers, propane, batteries and large pieces of abestos.
“We have nine teams working from the east, north and south areas and closing in on a center in Lahaina Town,” Oliveira said in a video on Wednesday.
Before residents can return, roadways through the impacted zone also need to be cleared of piles of structural fire debris and ash. This is now taking place.
Oliveira said that teams are doing trial runs of the first zones planned for the reentry plan to make sure people can get to their properties.
Maui County already has opened up four zones within the disaster area that were mostly unscathed by the fire, with the exception of the loss of access to water and wastewater. These are shopping centers and a business district that have set up portable washing stations and portable toilets.
On Sept. 5, the first zones in the disaster area were reopened: Lahaina Gateway (Zone 5D) and the Walgreens parcel (Zone 5H).
Two more business zones were re-opened on Sept. 13: the Lahaina Cannery Mall complex (Zone 5B) and the Lahaina Business Park, which includes the business area of Kupuohi and Ulupono streets (Zone 5E).
“This is being done in hopes to provide access to goods and services needed by area residents who are affected by the fire,” Oliveira said.
It also allows people to go back to work in these areas and provides hope that the community is starting to move forward in its recovery.
All roadways to access those zones are clear.
The Hawaiʻi Department of Health’s Smoke and Dust Advisory remains in effect for portions of Maui impacted by fire and surrounding areas with smoke, ash and dust. For air quality information, go to: https://health.hawaii.gov/mauiwildfires/.
For more Maui County information about the recovery, go to: www.MauiRecovers.org.