Maui relief efforts in progress after wildfires

The full impact of the wildfires that ravaged central and western parts of the Hawaiian island of Maui, including the city of Lahaina, beginning on August 8 have yet to be determined. Hawaii Gov. Josh Green, MD, said in an August 13 briefing that the fires were the "largest natural disaster in Hawaii state history" and that 80% of the historic beach-front town had "gone."

Maui wildfire
A wildfire in Maui destroyed the historic town of Lahaina and killed at least 106 people, making it the worst natural disaster in state history and the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century. (Courtesy of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources)

As of August 15, only one-quarter of the burn area has been searched. More than 100 people were confirmed to have died and the number could double over the coming days, according to news media reports. Hundreds of people remain missing almost a week after the disaster, and search teams have only covered a tiny percentage of the area affected.

The Kula (Upcountry) wildfire affected around 678 acres and destroyed numerous homes. The Lahaina (West Maui) wildfire spread to an estimated 2,170 acres and ravaged more than 2,700 structures in the historic town of Lahaina, including Dr. Leo Murakami's Lahaina Veterinary Clinic and the West Maui Animal Clinic. And the Pulehu (Central Maui) wildfire scorched grasslands above Kihei and burned mostly on Haleakala Ranch. All were spread by winds from a hurricane passing south of the state, according to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

"We're not letting anybody into the impacted zone ... It is not safe, it is a hazardous area and that's why experts are here," Gov. Green said at the briefing. "We're not doing anybody any favors by letting them back in there quickly, just so they can get sick. That can wait. A lot of what's happening now is, we're asking for the respect and dignity of recovering anyone who is still there ... That's the phase we're in."

Federal and state relief is now available after a presidential disaster declaration on August 10, requested by Governor Green. In addition to government efforts, the Maui Humane Society, Hawaii VMA, and local veterinarians are organizing the veterinary emergency response.

The Maui Humane Society anticipates receiving hundreds of animals who have been burned, lost during the evacuation process, and those in need of critical care because of smoke inhalation. It has veterinarians stationed at Lahaina Gateway and Napili Plaza and is providing pet supplies and emergency kits to those in need. There is also a mutual aid pets Facebook group with more than 6,000 members, helping to connect lost and injured pets with people who can assist.

In response to the devastating fires on the island of Maui, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF), the charitable arm of the American Veterinary Medical Association, announced an initial grant of $30,000 to support emergency efforts to treat animals in need.

"The damage on Maui is immense, and we encourage our members and others to join us in giving what they can to help the victims and ease the suffering," says Dr. Lori Teller, chair of the AVMF. "In addition to our donations to relief organizations, we'll also be supporting individual disaster relief and reimbursement grants to help veterinarians and animals affected by the wildfires."

According to Hawaii VMA, the next phase of relief will include long-term community outreach for those living in Lahaina, Napili, and Kapalua, as they no longer have veterinarians on the west side of the island.

To donate, visit the AVMF website and select "Disaster Relief" from the dropdown menu. Then check "I would like to dedicate this in honor of or memory of someone" and enter "Maui" for the name.

The AVMF offers disaster grants for veterinarians impacted by disasters or those who are providing care to animals impacted by disasters.