Priority goes to finding human dead rather than to rescuing live animals
KAHULUI, Maui, Hawaii––Five days into the aftermath of the firestorm that razed Lahaina, shock, sorrow, and anxiety over the fate of nearly 1,000 missing persons from the town that had a human population of just over 13,000 remain the dominant emotions among survivors.
Among animal rescuers, though, the dominant emotion may be frustration.
Lahaina survivors do what rescuing can be done
Supplies are stockpiled, volunteers are ready to go, and yet the search for animal survivors remains mostly on hold, except by human survivors who have remained in the vicinity, among them Rumi Rom, working with Kitty Charm Farm, and Mike Willinsky, founder and president of Save Maui Cats.
Part of the reason for the delayed canvas for surviving animals is that the Lahaina fire is still burning in places. The area is still dangerous, among fumes and the risk of flare-ups.
Another cause for delay is that the Federal Emergency Management Administration, Hawaii officials, and Maui County have given first priority of access to the search by cadaver dogs for the human dead.
“Cadaver dogs have covered just 3% of the area”
“Crews with cadaver dogs have covered just 3% of the search area,” Maui police chief John Pelletier told media on August 12, 2023.
“We have an area that we have to contain that is at least five square miles,” Pelletier said, “and it is full of our loved ones,” in many cases including animals.
As of August 13, 2023, 93 human dead had been found, but only six were positively identified: Franklin Trejo, 68, who died protecting his golden retriever Sam; a family of four, incinerated in their car; and one other.
“Access is now limited”
“Access to [fire] areas is now limited,” posted Kitty Charm Farm founder and president Sarah Haynes, from Haiku, Maui, offering the most frequent and thorough updates via Facebook of any animal rescuers actually in or near the scene.
“Before, they [emergency authorities] allowed walk-ins; now they do not. When possible,” Haynes said, “we are checking the open borders of closed areas for any animals who may have made it out.
“We have equipped local rescuers,” notably Rom, “with traps, food, carriers, and E bikes to assist them once they are allowed to get back into areas on foot,” Haynes recounted. “We have a runner with access in and out of Lahaina who will bring animals out of the fire zone and to the emergency clinic and/or Kitty Charm Farm, depending on the level of care needed.
“We made it to the airport”
“Amongst all this insanity,” Haynes mentioned, “we made it to the airport to fly our current adoptable cats out, to make room for fire victims. We appreciate our Seattle Foster & Cat Cafe so much ! They are helping us make space.
“Yesterday,” Haynes continued, “we did a free community clinic that we had planned prior to the fires. Most of the cats came from areas outside of the fires. One kitty was rushed to us straight from the Kula fire,” one of the smaller fires still burning on Maui. “We had to stop everything to give her immediate treatment.
“This is someone’s pet,” Haynes elaborated in a separate update. “Her name is Nancy and she lost six friends in the Lahaina fire. She brought us her kitty because she cannot afford care.
“Incredibly grateful for veterinarian”
“I am so incredibly grateful for veterinarian Jenny Li Hellsen,” Haynes added, “who comes to my home and treats all of these animals and oversees my care. A number of other veterinarians have reached out to me and offered to help.
“The two-pound kitten we pulled out [of Lahaina] two nights ago is still at the emergency center,” Haynes updated. “Everybody is in love with her. The vet tech there would like to adopt her. We first need to make sure she is not somebody’s pet,” Haynes said, “and I will give them more than enough time to identify her once her hair grows back.
“In the meantime, the vet tech is going to foster her. This is a huge benefit to us,” Haynes explained, “because he will bring her to work every day and expert veterinarians will lay eyes on her without us paying boarding fees. She will probably be allowed to leave today or tomorrow and will go to his home.
“Exporting animals to the mainland”
“Many of the rescue groups are exporting animals to make room for the many who will be relinquished and/or found injured,” Haynes reported. “The Good Cat Network, Maui Humane Society, and Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation are all in the midst of planning/doing exports.
“We were invited to send some of our cats out with Good Cat Network,” Haynes mentioned, “but unfortunately they needed microchips and other information right away and we were up in the fire zone, so we had to pass on this opportunity. They have been exporting cats year-round.”
Neighborhood Cats checks in
“The main fires on the island are mostly under control,” Neighborhood Cats national program director Bryan Kortis reported late on August 13, 2023, from his South Maui home, “but still a threat if hurricane force winds return. The situation in Lahaina remains fluid and unstable. Power is still out there, communication is difficult, and access for residents and animal rescuers is sporadic and unpredictable.
“With all that,” Kortis said, “some of our island’s animal people have gotten into the area and brought out lost and injured cats, dogs, and birds. Neighborhood Cats has donated almost all our traps to folks able to access Lahaina and are ordering more. We’ve purchased microchip scanners and provided gas cards to rescuers, and are looking to purchase a large number of crates for rescued animals.
“Once this urgent phase passes,” Kortis projected, “we expect a high level of need for both cat food and veterinary care as many colony caretakers will be newly unemployed, lacking housing or both.”
HARF “back on the west side”
The Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation [HARF] team “was back on the west side” on August 12, 2023, “doing what they could to help,” HARF posted.
Said HARF chief executive Dawn Pfendler, “We delivered pet food, water, and medical supplies to numerous areas in Lahaina. The mayor’s office has granted HARF permission to enter the disaster zone; however, the Front Street area is closed off.
“As everyone has said, this will be a sustained event that will last months and even years,” Pfendler observed.
The Maui Fires Pet Help Group on Facebook is inundated with postings from displaced former Lahaina residents looking for animals, and occasionally with reports of animals seen among the ashes and rubble, mostly cats.
Five pet chameleons
Some refugees from the blaze managed to escape with their pets, but the firestorm hit Lahaina so quickly that most survivors barely got out with their own lives, often running through roads blocked with disabled cars. Dozens jumped or climbed over a roadside retaining wall into the sea, where for hours they struggled to hold onto rocks amid battering waves and a rain of embers.
“The thing I am saddest about leaving behind was my five pet chameleons,” 26-year-old Bryce Baraoidan told BBC News. “I was very attached to them and I regret not taking them with us when we left,” Baraoidan said, but while he lost his house, he did manage to save his human family.
Los Angeles Fire Department sends dogs
The long search for human remains, and therefore the wait for access to retrieve animal survivors, is expected to be expedited by the late August 13, 2023 of two Los Angeles Fire Department cadaver dogs, two LAFD paramedics, and an LAFD captain.
Forty miles from Lahaina, where most would-be animal rescue teams wait to be mobilized to help trap surviving animals, life on Maui is said to be relatively normal, except around two much smaller fires in the Kihei area of South Maui and in the mountainous inland region called Upcountry.
No reported deaths from other Maui fires
More than 540 homes have reportedly burned in those two fires, compared to 2,200 in and around Lahaina. Despite the magnitude of the inland fires, which would be considered major if the Lahaina holocaust had never happened, there have as yet been no known human casualties and no reports of animal losses from those locations.
If any of the six member farmers of the Maui Cattle Company have experienced losses or damage, ANIMALS 24-7 has not found information about it, but people at the 32,000-acre Haleakala Ranch, the largest member, got a scare from the Upcountry fire, also called the Olinda fire.
The Upcountry fire, according to the Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources (DLNR), “likely started across Olinda Road from the Maui Bird Conservation Center, operated by the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance on land and facilities under the jurisdiction of the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife.”
But the high winds from Hurricane Dora that drove flames into Lahaina blew the Olinda fire away from homes and barns, leaving the Haleakala Ranch with only thick smoke to contend with.