- In August, America’s deadliest wildfire in more than a century broke out in Maui, Hawaii.
- The fire, which caused residents to jump over a seawall to seek shelter from the waves, destroyed 2,000 buildings and killed dozens of victims.
- On Monday, authorities began allowing Lahaina residents to return to the burned-out historic town.
Just outside the burn zone in Lahaina, Jes Claydon can see the ruins of the rental home where she lived for 13 years and raised three children. Few things remain recognizable beyond the sea glass jars that stood outside the front door.
On Monday, officials will begin lifting restrictions on entry to the area, and Claydon hopes to collect those jars and any other memorabilia she can find.
“I want the freedom to be there and absorb what happened,” Clayton said. “Whatever I find, even if it’s just these sea glass jars, I can’t wait to get it. . . . It’s a piece of home.”
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Authorities will begin allowing the first residents and property owners to return to their properties in the burned zone, many for the first time since it was razed nearly seven weeks ago on Aug. 8 by the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century .
The prospect of a return has stirred strong emotions among residents who fled in vehicles or on foot as wind-driven flames raced through Lahaina, the historic capital of the former kingdom of Hawaii, and overtook people stuck in traffic trying to to escape. Some survivors jumped over a sea wall and sheltered in the waves as hot black smoke blotted out the sun. The fire killed at least 97 people and destroyed more than 2,000 buildings, most of them homes.
Clayton’s house was a one-story ashlar house painted a reddish tan, similar to the red soil in Lahaina. He can see the property from a National Guard cordon that has kept unauthorized people out of the burn zone. Some of the walls are still standing and there is some green lawn left, he said.
Authorities have divided the burned area into 17 zones and dozens of subzones. Residents or property owners of the first permit for re-entry — known as Zone 1C, along Kaniau Street in northern Lahaina — will be allowed to return for supervised visits Monday and Tuesday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. passes from Friday to Sunday in advance.
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Darryl Oliveira, interim administrator of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, said officials also want to make sure they have the space and privacy to reflect or grieve as they see fit.
“They anticipate that some people will only want to go for a very short time, a few minutes to kind of say goodbye to their property,” Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said last week. “Others may want to stay several hours. They will be very accommodating.”
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Returnees will be provided with water, shade, washing stations, portable toilets, medical and mental health care and transportation assistance if needed. Nonprofit groups also offer personal protective equipment, including masks and coveralls. Officials have warned that the ash may contain asbestos, lead, arsenic or other toxins.
While some residents, like Claydon, may be eager to find jewelry, photos or other reminders of their lives before the fire, officials are urging them not to sift through the ashes for fear of raising toxic dust that could endanger them or their downwind neighbors.