Subpoenas on Maui agencies and officials delay release of key report into deadly wildfire

Hawaii’s attorney general is blaming a delay of the release of a key report into a deadly Maui wildfire on county agencies that forced investigators to issue subpoenas

Jennifer Sinco Kelleher
Monday 18 March 2024 20:42 GMT

Hawaii’s attorney general on Monday blamed a delay of the release of a key report into a deadly Maui wildfire on county agencies that forced investigators to issue subpoenas.

The first phase of an independent investigation into the Aug. 8 fire that killed at least 101 people and destroyed much of historic Lahaina was expected to be released this month. It will instead be released on April 17.

The Fire Safety Research Institute was selected to provide a scientific analysis of the fire and recommendations.

Its “team encountered unexpected delays when gathering the critical facts for review, which had a direct impact on the rescheduled Phase One report release date,” Lopez's office said in a statement Monday.

Lopez's office in November announced having to issue three subpoenas on the Maui Emergency Management Agency, the County of Maui Department of Public Works and the County of Maui Department of Water Supply seeking documents relevant to the investigation.

"The County of Maui stated that subpoenas would be required for all further information, including documents and interviews with county personnel," Lopez's office said. “As a result, the Department has needed to serve upon County of Maui agencies and officials, eight additional subpoenas for documents and 53 additional subpoenas for interviews, to date.”

Maui County officials didn't immediately return a message from The Associated Press seeking comment on the delay.

The first phase of the report will focus on the first 24 to 72 hours of what became the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in more than a century and its aftermath, Lopez said. It is also expected to contain a detailed timeline of what happened.

“We all want fast answers, but it is critical that this investigation be thorough and accurate," Lopez said. “An analysis of this magnitude cannot be rushed, and we must allow for the time needed to make sure this investigation, based on science, is done correctly.”

Meanwhile, numerous lawsuits over the fire were sent back to state court from U.S. district court. According to lawyers involved, that could facilitate reaching settlement agreements sooner.

One of those attorneys, James Bickerton, said he's not confident the state can conduct a truly independent probe.

“The state shares in the fault and is being sued in these cases,” he said. “We feel the only real independent investigation that's going to get is done is by their plaintiffs and their counsel.”

More than seven months after the fire, thousands of people are still staying in hotels while they look for places to rent and wait for longer-term housing options.

In an emotional speech Friday, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said he is prioritizing housing, evaluating evacuation routes and hiring more firefighters as the community recovers.

Some of those who died in the fire were caught in traffic jams trying to leave Lahaina. Like many Hawaii towns, it sits sandwiched between the ocean and the mountains and has limited roads in and out.


AP journalist Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report.

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