West Maui’s water systems were failing under the extreme heat of the island’s deadly wildfires, leaving many residents and firefighters unable to fight the blazes as it surfaced Monday.
The infrastructure of the devastated city of Lahaina and surrounding communities is under strain after fire hydrants and water pumps reportedly failed during the Hawaiian island’s biggest crisis The New York Times reported.
Ross and Gayle Hart, homeowners in the Upcountry, were among local residents trying to save their homes, who fought alongside firefighters for hours last Tuesday until their hoses gave out.
“It just went away – like we just ran out of water,” Gayle said NBC News. “My husband, I give him credit, he fought the fight to the end.”
Hawaiian Electric is facing a class action lawsuit alleging disregard for hurricane wind power shutdown warning signs. The Company has determined that West Maui’s water system relies on electricity to deliver water to fire hydrants.
Shutting off the power would have left firefighters without water – but the decision to leave the power on seemed futile anyway, as the wildfires eventually crippled power plants and damaged water valves.
“Then the fire just grew,” Ross told the Times of the moment the water was shut off. “Sparks started flying and we couldn’t keep up with our buckets to put out the small fires.
“In the end it just beat us. We had to get out,” he added. “You can’t fight a fire if you don’t have water.”
The situation proved particularly dangerous for firefighters, who were without water in the heat of battle and forced to relocate to unsafe locations in hopes of finding working hydrants.
Keahi Ho, a firefighter on duty in Lahaina, told the Times that whenever his crew thought they’d put out a fire, another would show up in an area where fire hydrants were dry.
“There was just no water in the hydrants,” he said, echoing similar complaints from other firefighters.
But Ho refrained from blaming officials, saying the destruction was ultimately the result of aging infrastructure and an unprecedented natural disaster.
Without the proper means to fight the raging blazes, residents watched helplessly as the wildfires only stopped after they devastated the resort town of Lahaina, killing at least 96 people.
Officials have yet to determine the actual cause of the fire, claiming it could take weeks or months to complete the investigation as rescue workers scour the devastated city for victims.
There are also questions about Maui’s emergency siren system, which was not activated during the fires. Instead, the state’s Emergency Medical Services Agency sent out alerts via mobile devices, radio, and television.
However, due to widespread power and cellphone outages across Maui, many likely didn’t see the warnings.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said it wasn’t clear why the sirens didn’t activate, but the fire destroyed much of the equipment.
Green said there will be a full review of all the factors that played a role in the island’s devastation.