AG releases comprehensive timeline of Aug. 8-9 Lahaina wildfire

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Aerial view of the Lahaina shows the aftermath of a wildfire that killed at least 101 and destroyed the former capital of Hawaiʻi. A comprehensive timeline of the events prior to, during and immediately after the Aug. 8-9 disaster was released Wednesday morning. (8.11.23) PC: Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources

A comprehensive timeline for the Aug. 8-9 Lahaina wildfire has been released by Hawaiʻi Attorney General Anne Lopez. The Phase 1 report is the first of three to be completed as part of an independent investigation by the Fire Safety Research Institute.

“Responsible governance requires we look at what happened, and using an objective, science-based approach, identify how state and county governments responded. We will review what worked and what did not work and make improvements to prevent future disasters of this magnitude,” said Attorney General Lopez in a news release. “Today we are sharing the Lahaina Fire Report and Timeline so that the people of Hawaii can know how the fire unfolded.” 

*Video via the Office of the Hawaiʻi Attorney General/ʻŌlelo TV

The institute collected extensive data to establish a comprehensive timeline and facts prior to, during and immediately after the fire that left 101 confirmed fatalities and destroyed most of historic Lahaina town. The timeline also focuses on preparedness efforts, weather and its impact on infrastructure and three other fires occurring at the same time on Maui. The specific period of time covered was from 2:55 p.m. Aug. 8 through 8:30 a.m. Aug. 9, 2023.

There were three main areas of focus in the 375 page Phase One report and Timeline:

  1. Pre-fire conditions: how environmental conditions including climate and weather, vegetation and fuels helped create the situation.
  2. Fire progression: how more than 12,000 lines of data including 911 calls, radio transmissions and personal photos taken by members of the Lahaina community to inform how the fire spread.
  3. Emergency response: how organizations responded to the crisis.
Lahaina PM Fire Progression. Figure Comprehensive fire progression map of the greater Lahaina and western Maui areas. Arrows indicate the general direction of fire spread based on the data collected. The fire’s progression and speed was influenced by direct flame contact, radiant heating, and wind- driven embers from all of the fuel in the fire’s path. PC: screen grab from AG report.

A “Crisis Communications” section of the report describes the activities of Mayor Richard Bissen. Because of the approach of Hurricane Dora, the Maui Emergency Management Agency kept the mayor aware of weather forecasts because there were concerns about high winds and the National Weather Service fire danger warnings.

What county officials knew and when

The report provides a glimpse into what Maui County officials knew and when on the day of the fire and how they responded in the Emergency Operations Center. According to the report:

The initial focus on the morning of Aug. 8 was the fire in Kula, and Bissen recalled getting a text message on his phone that emergency evacuations were happening there and a shelter was being opened. He reported going directly to the EOC and knew about only one active fire — in Kula.

Around 6:30 a.m. Aug. 8, Mayor Bissen recalled that a fire was reported in Lahaina as well, and, while that fire was being monitored, “everything was about Kula,” because of its larger size and evacuations.

A Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency statewide coordination meeting was held via Zoom at 11 a.m. Aug. 8, and that included Major General Kenneth Hara and then Maui Emergency Management Agency Administrator Herman Andaya, according to Bissen.


“Later that morning, Mayor Bissen was advised that the Lahaina fire was contained,” the report says.

Throughout the day on Aug. 8 and until approximately 2:30 a.m. Aug. 9, “Mayor Bissen reported staying at the Maui County government complex, moving between the EOC and his office.”

“Nothing had let up in Kula,” Bissen told investigators about the early morning hours of Aug. 9, and “Mayor Bissen could still see the fire burning from the County Complex and thought Kīhei High School (Kūlanihākoʻi High School) was going to be lost.”

Bissen reported that he was first made aware that lives were lost when he arrived at the EOC on the morning of Aug. 9. “Later that day, when weather conditions allowed the (Civil Air Patrol) to perform a reconnaissance flight over Lahaina town, ‘then (he) saw what happened.’ “

Bissen told investigators that his role in the EOC was to “ask layperson questions,” “be supportive,” “get needed resources” and “not take over” from the professional staff at EOC.


“Much of the communication that occurred in the EOC was verbal, and Mayor Bissen recalled that it ‘got very loud.’ Fire and police portable radios were the ‘main lifeline’ for information from the field.”

Also, “there was limited information coming in from other sources and “nothing in real time.”

“Mayor Bissen and his staff started seeing information ‘trickle in’ via social media and also started getting calls from Lieutenant Governor (Sylvia) Luke and others. He did not remember seeing any written flash reports or situation reports with ‘everything coming verbally.’ “

“There was ‘no reliable communication other than (public safety) radio,’ Mayor Bissen recalled. ‘Nobody knew how bad it was.’ At one point, the room in the EOC got quiet and he could tell something serious had happened. Assistant Fire Chief (Jeffrey) Giesea reported that they had not received communication from one of the fire crews.

In the timeline, Gaye Gabuat, the EOC administrative assistant and MEMA public information officer, advised that at 8:08 p.m. Aug. 8 about 100 people were going into the ocean to escape smoke.

Later, at 1:11 a.m. Aug. 9, Gabuat advised of another evacuation in Lahaina and that it looked like the area from Lahaina to Kāʻanapali had been destroyed.

Mayor Bissen signed an emergency proclamation around 8 p.m.

Mayor Bissen does not remember how he found out about the water rescues along Front Street; his main concern was getting them out of the water.”

“Mayor Bissen ‘worked to get resources to people who needed them — not to decide what resources were needed.’ “

Over the course of Aug. 8 and 9, “we were opening emergency shelters left and right, 6 or 7.”

“Due to changing conditions like fire impingement, loss of power, loss of water, etc., shelters were opened, closed or relocated throughout the incident.”

Mayor Responds to AG report

Mayor Bissen responded to the AG report on Wednesday afternoon saying: “We understand the state Attorney General’s investigation and the hard work that Fire Safety Research Institute put into describing the nation’s worst wildfire disaster in modern history. Today’s Phase One report can help piece together what other fire-stricken jurisdictions have called the most complex megafire they have ever seen.”

“While the investigations and studies can be helpful,” he said, “the pain, trauma and suffering that our residents have endured continue to be our primary focus. I remain committed to bringing Lahaina residents back home so they can take additional steps toward healing.”

The County’s Department of Corporation Counsel today said it agrees with the state Attorney General’s assessment that County first responders were nothing short of heroic throughout the incident, adding that employees’ noteworthy efforts continue.

“In the brutal aftermath of this tragedy, County personnel have maintained the operations of County infrastructure and systems even while they also grieve, re-orient their lives, and recover physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” the department said in a news release. 

Today’s report is separate from the forthcoming cause and origin investigation led by the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and distinct from internal after-action reports. Also, the County has obligations to more than 135 individual plaintiff and class-action lawsuits filed in three different courts. 

In its participation in the state Attorney General’s investigation, the county delivered approximately 8,000 video and media files, nearly 50,000 pages of responsive documents, 118 gigabytes of data, 150 technical interviews and site visits, and fulfilled more than 175 different categories of requests.

Mayor Bissen said that this report and others will help local, state and jurisdictions countrywide better prepare for life-altering disasters.   “The most important part is how we prevent, how we mitigate, how we can prepare for future disasters,” Mayor Bissen said in a statement.

Report is part one of three phases

The Phase 1 report puts together a detailed timeline of preparedness efforts, fire progression, evacuations, emergency response and fire suppression efforts based on radio communications and transcripts, video, images (both still or captures from videos), emergency logs, technical discussions with authorities and residents, eyewitness statements, text and phone logs, email records, automatic vehicle location applications, social media posts, witness accounts and corroborated personal experiences.

“Mapping and analysis illustrate how the fires moved from the woodland into Lahaina’s neighborhoods, rapidly transforming from a grassland fire into a catastrophic urban conflagration,” the report summary says.

A Phase 2 report will outline the institute’s independent analysis of the Lahaina fire events. It will detail conditions influencing preparedness efforts and the origins of the fire. It also will look at attempts to stop the rapidly moving fire and evacuation efforts.

“The analysis will include a review of county and state emergency response management policies and procedures to determine where changes are necessary to make them more effective in responding to future events,” the report says. “Incident analysis will incorporate science and evidence-based analyses with information from FSRI’s fire dynamics research, local subject matter experts, industry standards and best practices, and the collective experiences of FSRI’s team.”

The third and final Phase 3 report will focus on answering critical questions such as “How do we prevent this from happening again?” It will assess the capabilities of the Maui County Fire Department, a community risk assessment to analyze natural and human-caused risks to Maui, community risk reduction planning to mitigate risk and a review of fire and building codes.

The Phase 1 Lahaina Fire Comprehensive Timeline Report and a Timeline is available free of charge online at:

The Fire Safety Institute, part of UL Research Institutes, is recognized as the premier fire safety science organization in the world and was selected to provide its scientific analysis of the fire event and recommendations for the future.

*Maui Now’s Wendy Osher contributed to this report. Editor’s note: This story was updated to include comments received on Wednesday afternoon from the Office of the Mayor.

Brian Perry
Brian Perry worked as a staff writer and editor at The Maui News from 1990 to 2018. Before that, he was a reporter at the Pacific Daily News in Agana, Guam. From 2019 to 2022, he was director of communications in the Office of the Mayor.
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