MAUI, Hawaii (UPI) — The death toll from the Maui wildfires climbed to 111 Wednesday night, as crews continue to fight last week’s wind-fueled fires and investigators work to determine a cause.
While hundreds remain missing, Hawaiian Electric is facing scrutiny and a lawsuit for failing to shut-down active power lines during the high winds.
While no official cause for the fires has been determined, the power monitoring company Whisker Labs believes the first fire on Maui may have been caused by damaged power lines. The first fire was reported shortly after midnight on Aug. 8, according to Maui County officials.
An hour earlier, a security camera at the Maui Bird Conservation Center captured a bright flash in the woods, which the lab says points to fallen power lines.
“The grid was incredibly stressed Monday night and throughout the day on Tuesday,” Bob Marshall, chief executive officer of Whisker Labs, told ABC News.
“It was trying to deal with the winds that it was encountering, and what our network clearly documents is that there were 122 faults that occurred throughout that time period, any one of which could have ignited a fire.”
Hawaiian Electric has not responded to the reports and said it is currently focused on restoring power to 2,000 customers while supporting the island’s recovery. Investigators are also looking into reports that emergency sirens were not activated and reports that fire hydrants ran dry during the fires.
As of Wednesday, 85% of the Lahaina fire in western Maui was contained and the Kula fire in upcountry Maui was 60% contained, according to Maui County officials.
Searchers in Lahaina have covered 38% of the impact zone, according to Hawaii Gov. Josh Green who warned the current death toll is expected to rise as many of the dead “were on the road down by the sea.”
As of Wednesday night, the death toll stood at 111, according to a release from Maui County.
Officials on Wednesday were able to identify the remains of Melva Benjamin, 71, Virginia Dofa, 90, and Alfredo Galinato, 79. All were from Lahaina. Their families have been notified.
“We understand that this is an incredibly difficult time for the families,” the county said in a statement. “We will continue to work closely with the families to ensure that they are updated and supported throughout this process.”
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell told reporters Wednesday that Maui is facing a “very long and hard recovery.”
While FEMA has given $2.3 million in assistance to families, only 1,300 households have registered with FEMA so far. Criswell urged residents to “register for assistance with FEMA, with either our staff on the ground, through our website or by calling 1-800-621-3362.”
Green said there are currently 1,000 hotel rooms available to house those who have lost their homes.
“Between donations and hotel rooms and Airbnb, we’ll now be able to house virtually everyone who’s impacted,” Green said.
Later Wednesday, he said that 910 people have moved into 369 hotel rooms, with 700 offers for long-term rentals.
FEMA is working to identify more victims as portable morgue units arrived on the island Tuesday with exam tables, X-ray units and lab equipment. As of Wednesday, 35 autopsies had been completed and seven victims have been identified, according to Maui County officials.
“He’s going to speak with the governor and the state’s first lady, and talk to survivors and hear their stories,” Criswell said. “And it’s that level of hope that I think is going to really be a positive impact for this community.”
As Maui works to recover, the main road running east to west on Maui, called the Lahaina Bypass, reopened Wednesday night. The road will be open daily between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. to connect both sides of the island. The National Guard will be stationed along the road to keep people out of the impact zone in Lahaina.
Both Japan and South Korea have donated to help Maui’s wildfire victims. Japan announced Wednesday that it will provide $2 million through the American Red Cross and the Japan Platform.
“Japan will actively provide assistance for the relief of the victims and the earliest possible recovery of the affected areas,” the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
South Korea also donated $2 million, its ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement Tuesday. According to the Hawaii Community Foundation, the donation will help support Lahaina’s recovery, medical needs and housing for displaced families.