The number of people on the official list of those missing from the Maui wildfire stood at 385 on Friday, nearly unchanged from a week earlier.
In a news release, the Maui Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said 245 people on the list of 388 made public the previous week were located and removed. However, a nearly equal number of new names were added.
A member of the White House press corps looks at a burnt car after wildfires in Lahaina, Hawaii on August 21, 2023. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
The updated total was a startling departure from what had been expected — a day earlier Gov. Josh Green said he believed the number would fall below 100.
"We think the number has dropped down into the double digits, so thank God," Green said in a video posted to his account on X, formerly known as Twitter.
After Maui police released the updated list, the governor said the numbers of fatalities and missing are often in flux in mass casualty events until investigations are completed.
"Exact numbers are going to take time, perhaps a long time, to become finalized," Green said in a statement provided through a spokesperson.
He said there are less than 50 "active missing person cases." He didn't elaborate but indicated those are the people for whom more information was provided than the minimum to be on the missing list compiled by the FBI. It only requires a first and last name provided by a person with a verified contact number.
Authorities have said at least 115 people died in the blaze that swept through Lahaina, the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in more than a century. So far, the names of 50 people have been publicly released and five others have been identified but their identities withheld because next of kin haven’t been reached. The rest have yet to be identified.
The flames turned the picturesque seaside town into rubble in a few short hours on Aug. 8. Wind gusts topping 60 mph (97 kph) ripped through the town, causing the flames to spread exceptionally quickly.
Lahaina has deep significance in Hawaiian history as the one-time capital of former Hawaiian kingdom and as the home to high-ranking chiefs for centuries. In recent decades, the town became popular with tourists, who ate at its oceanfront restaurants and marveled at a majestic 150-year-old banyan tree.
Sanford Hill, 72, looks down Lahainaluna Road where the Hale Mahaolu Eono, an independent living senior home burned downt from the wildfire, was at in Lahaina, Hawaii on August 20, 2023.(Photo by Mengshin Lin for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Half the town’s 12,000 residents are now living in hotels and short-term vacation rentals. The Environmental Protection Agency is leading an effort to clean hazardous waste left in a burn zone stretching across some 5 square miles (13 square kilometers).
Reconstruction is expected to take years and cost billions.
Initially more than 1,000 people were believed unaccounted for based on family, friends or acquaintances reporting them as missing. Officials narrowed that list down to 388 names who were credibly considered missing and released the names to the public last week.
New names on Friday's updated list were added from the Red Cross, shelters and interested parties who contacted the FBI, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said. He urged family members of the missing to submit their genetic data to help identify their relatives.
"If you have a loved one that you know is missing and you are a family member, it’s imperative that you get a DNA sample," Pelletier said in a video posted to Instagram.
The cause of the fire hasn't been determined, but it's possible powerlines from downed utility poles ignited the blaze. Maui County has sued Hawaiian Electric, the electrical utility for the island.
The utility acknowledged its power lines started a wildfire early on Aug. 8 but faulted county firefighters for declaring the blaze contained and leaving the scene, only to have a second wildfire break out nearby.