State Watch

ATF team sent to Maui to investigate wildfire origins

A small group of fire experts from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) will arrive in Hawaii on Friday to help determine the cause of deadly wildfires on Maui, the agency announced.

Five members of the ATF’s National Response Team — consisting of an electrical engineer, three fire origin experts and an arson specialist — will investigate the cause of the wildfires alongside other officials.

The wildfires in Maui have killed at least 111 people and wiped out the town of Lahaina in western Maui.

“We were all devastated to learn of the loss of life and property on Maui from the Hawaii wildfires,” ATF Seattle office leader Jonathan McPherson said in a statement. “We hope the deployment of National Response Team resources will allow the residents of Maui, and the state and nation as a whole, to know that we will do everything in our power to support our local counterparts in determining the origin and cause of the wildfires there, and hopefully bring some healing to the community.”

The fire’s cause is unknown, but speculation has surrounded power lines damaged by abnormally high winds on the island. A group of Maui residents filed a lawsuit against the Hawaiian power utility this week alleging that poor management and aging infrastructure exacerbated the fires.

Those winds caused the fire to move extremely quickly, trapping many in Lahaina and forcing some into the ocean to escape flames. The wildfire caused an estimated $5.5 billion in damage, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates.

The Hawaiian attorney general announced Thursday that the state will commission an independent investigation into its emergency response after officials were criticized for choosing not to set off tsunami alert sirens to warn residents.

President Biden is scheduled to visit the island next week.

Tags ATF National Response Team Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Federal Emergency Management Agency Hawaii Hawaii wildfire inquiry Joe Biden Lahaina Town maui wildfire wildfires