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Hawaii’s attorney general opens probe into wildfire response

Hawaii’s attorney general announced Friday the launch of a probe that will examine the overall response to the devastating wildfire in Maui, where 80 people have died and another 1,000 remain missing.

In a statement, Atty. Gen. Anne Lopez indicated her office would examine the policies and key decisions this week that influenced the response to the deadly inferno.

“My Department is committed to understanding the decisions that were made before and during the wildfires and to sharing with the public the results of this review,” Lopez said in a statement. “As we continue to support all aspects of the ongoing relief effort, now is the time to begin this process of understanding.”

A brush fire broke out Tuesday morning, prompting evacuations in Lahaina, a historic town of about 13,000 people in West Maui. Although officials declared it “100% contained” around 10 a.m. that day, the blaze flared up around 3:30 p.m.

Fanned by strong winds on account of Hurricane Dora, the blaze engulfed homes in the upper area and moved toward the coast.

As Lahaina burned, the two ways of exiting the area were closed or blocked off.

Some residents appeared to have received warnings to evacuate, while others did not. Hawaii has a network of outdoor sirens, but neither the state nor the county activated them on Tuesday, said Adam Weintraub, a spokesperson for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. Instead, officials issued wireless emergency alerts to mobile phones, alerts via a local emergency notification system, and radio and television alerts.

With power outages and other damage to the telecommunications infrastructure, however, many residents were left in the dark or moved too late to successfully evacuate.

The high risk of wildfires was well known by officials in the days leading up to the outbreak on Maui.

The National Weather Service warned of “high fire danger” last Friday, given the dry weather and “strong and gusty trade winds.”

Times staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II, Alexandra E. Petri and Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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