Rebuilding after wildfires on the island of Maui in Hawaii could cost more than $5.5 billion, according to a preliminary assessment prepared by the University of Hawaii Pacific Disaster Center and local officials.
The largest of the fires, in historic Lahaina, burned an estimated 2,170 acres and damaged or destroyed more than 2,200 structures in the city of about 13,000 that was once capital of the Hawaiian kingdom in the early 19th century, according to the university assessment. It estimated the cost of rebuilding from that fire alone at $5.52 billion. Most impacted buildings—about 86%—are residential, with 9% classified as commercial, according to the assessment.
President Joe Biden issued a disaster declaration on Aug. 10, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other administration agencies making funding available to rebuild homes and businesses.
As of the evening of Aug. 14 local time, the Lahaina fire was 85% contained but not yet been fully extinguished, according to Maui County officials.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said in a video livestreamed on social media that the fire resulted in the “destruction of Lahaina.” He said, “Having been at ground zero twice, there is very little left there.”
Another fire, the Kula fire, burned 679 acres and was 60% contained, Maui County officials said. After initially estimating a higher rebuilding cost there, PDC said 63 structures had been damaged, including 20 destroyed, and estimated it would cost about $55 million to rebuild.
The center has not yet shared cost estimates for rebuilding after two other Maui wildfires, but one was fully contained and the other was extinguished after burning 1 acre, according to county officials.
The fires have also damaged local water infrastructure, causing power outages that prompted officials to declare an unsafe water advisory in the Lahaina and Upper Kula areas. Water was not safe to drink even if boiled, they warned. An estimate for rehabilitating infrastructure was not yet available.
The cause of the fires has not yet been determined, but high winds linked to a passing hurricane and dry conditions helped it spread quickly, according to the National Weather Service. Green said the flames spread as quickly as one mile per minute.
President Biden's disaster declaration makes grants and low-cost loans available for homeowners and business owners, as well as federal funding for local governments for debris removal, emergency protective measures and hazard mitigation measures. The White House said other forms of disaster assistance may also be made available once damage assessments are complete.
But with the focus still on aiding survivors and finding those who died, it was not clear how soon rebuilding efforts would get underway.
Police confirmed 96 deaths as of Aug. 14, and Green said more FEMA personnel were on their way to join the search for others killed.
“It is a harrowing sight in Maui,” he said.