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Maui residents blocked from escaping fire by authorities’ road barricades: Report

Buildings still smolder days after a wildfire gutted downtown Lahaina on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Maui, Hawaii. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
August 24, 2023

Authorities barricaded the only paved road out of the town of Lahaina, blocking residents from leaving as a devastating fire swept across Maui earlier this month, survivors of the deadly disaster said, according to The Associated Press.

While Maui Police Chief John Pelletier insisted no one was prevented from escaping one of the deadliest wildfires in American history, survivors said authorities closed the Hanoapiilani Highway and a bypass out of Lahaina.

One family who drove around the barricades survived the blaze.

“Nobody realized how little time we really had,” said Nate Baird, who drove his wife and two young sons to safety. “Like even us being from the heart of the fire, we did not comprehend. Like, we literally had minutes and one wrong turn. We would all be dead right now.”

The AP reported that a woman and her 3-year-old daughter escaped the fire by taking a dirt road to a neighboring town. Another mother and her two children were forced to ignore traffic rules to flee the deadly fire.

READ MORE: Video: Biden compares deadly Hawaii fires to almost losing his ’67 Corvette

“The gridlock would have left us there when the firestorm came,” witness Kim Cuevas-Reyes said. “I would have had to tell my children to jump into the ocean as well and be boiled alive by the flames or we would have just died from smoke inhalation and roasted in the car.”

The road remained closed until after 5 p.m., hours after residents attempted to escape. Multiple witnesses said some people perished in their cars before the road was opened, while others desperately fled into the ocean.

“I could see from the bypass that people were stuck on the balconies, so I went down and checked it out,” said Kekoa Lansford, who went into town in search of survivors.

Lansford described the horrific scene: “And I could see that people were on fire, that the fire was just being stoked by the wind, and being pushed toward the homes.”

More than 100 people, including children, died in the fire, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said, and around 850 are still missing.

“It’s possible that there will be many children,” Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said. “This is the largest catastrophe and disaster that’s ever hit Maui, probably that’s ever hit Hawaii outside of wartime events.”