LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Authorities in Maui are opening more of the burn zone from last month’s devastating wildfire for visits by residents and property owners who lost homes.
Early this week, officials began permitting those who lived in a small section in the north end of Lahaina to return for the first time since the Aug. 8 wildfire demolished the historic coastal town. Next Monday and Tuesday, residents of three more streets in that area will be allowed back, Maui County said in a news release Thursday.
The wildfire killed at least 97 people, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century, and destroyed more than 2,000 buildings, most of them homes. It first erupted in the morning when strong winds appeared to cause a Hawaiian Electric power line to fall, igniting dry brush and grass. The fire was initially declared contained, but one flared up again in the same area around 3 p.m. and raced through the town.
Lawmakers probing the cause of the wildfire did not get many answers during a congressional hearing Thursday on the role the electrical grid played in the disaster.
In the days after it, some people were able to return to their properties to evaluate the damage. But the burned area was subsequently made off-limits to all but authorized workers, including Environmental Protection Agency crews tasked with removing hazardous materials.
Officials have urged returning residents not to sift through the ashes for fear of raising toxic dust. Some families have nevertheless sought to recover heirloom s and keepsakes from the ruins.