UPDATE

The confirmed death toll from the fire that obliterated Lahaina rose by nine today to 89, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century, and Gov. Josh Green said that number will “continue to rise.”

“We want to brace people for that,” Green said at an afternoon news conference on Maui.

To stress the point, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said only 3% of the burned area of Lahaina has been searched. He asked for patience and stressed that it was going to take time to comb through the rubble of thousands of burned structures and get the full accounting of fatalities.

Pelletier said two of the 89 victims have been identified so far, adding that identifying the dead is extremely challenging because “we pick up the remains and they fall apart.” He did not release the names of the two who had been identified.

“When we find our family and our friends, the remains that we’re finding is through a fire that melted metal. We have to do rapid DNA to identify them. Every one of these 89 are John and Jane Does,” he said. “We know we’ve got to go quick, but we’ve got to do it right.”

He said today was the first day cadaver-sniffing dogs were used and another 12 more are on the way to Maui.

U.S. Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell said the investigation into the fire, and how rapidly it spread, was ongoing.

“It was a very fast-moving fire, it was a low-to-the-ground fire, it was grass-fed by all evidence that we could observe today,” she said. “It outpaced anything the firefighters could have done in the early hours. … The unfortunate part about this is that since 2017 the U.S. has experienced the top 10 wildfires in our nation. … This fire has now become the deadliest fire in the last 10 years.”

The new death toll surpassed the number of fatalities from the 2018 Camp Fire in Northern California, which left 85 dead and destroyed the town of Paradise. A century earlier, the 1918 Cloquet Fire broke out in drought-stricken northern Minnesota and raced through a number of rural communities, destroying thousands of homes and killing hundreds.

Green said the Maui fires “will certainly be the worst natural disaster that Hawaii ever faced.

“We can only wait and support those who are living. Our focus now is to reunite people when we can and get them housing and get them health care, and then turn to rebuilding.”

PREVIOUS COVERAGE

Gov. Josh Green and Maui Mayor Richard Bissen held a press conference at 4:30 p.m. to discuss the latest updates to disaster response efforts in Maui. Officials discussed access to relief for residents and local small businesses.

Speakers included FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono, U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, and U.S. Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell.

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