A week after the firestorm, rescuers are still kept out during search for human remains while animals suffer hunger & thirst
KAHULUI, Maui, Hawaii––Animal rescuers trying to evacuate surviving cats and dogs from firestorm-devasted Lahaina hope the resignation of Maui emergency chief Herman Andaya late on August 17, 2023 will ease access to the still smoldering ruins for volunteers with pet food, live traps, and cages.
Andaya resigned, after the remains of 111 human victims had been found by 20 cadaver dog teams, amid intense criticism for his decision not to activate 80 alarm horns on Maui to alert residents of the approach of wildfires.
How early could power lines downed by high winds from Hurricane Dora, passing out to sea, have been shut off to prevent sparks from starting fires?
How early could the alarm horns have been sounded to alert Lahaina residents to begin an orderly evacuation, ahead of the frantic flight for their lives that followed when they got no warning?
The birds might have done better
Reported the Washington Post, “Video taken at the Maui Bird Conservation Center in Makawao appears to show a power pole faulting just before 11 p.m. on August 7. Soon after, what appears to be flames are seen in the video.”
Access to Lahaina for animal rescuers was not raised during Andaya’s resignation media conference, amid extensive discussion of incompetence and his own insistence that he was qualified because he had passed a civil service examination.
Access, however, has been the top item on humane organizations’ list of needs for days.
Kitty Charm Farm founder testifies
“The Maui Humane Society,” assessed Kitty Charm Farm founder Sarah Haynes on August 17, 2023, “are doing a great job in the areas they are allowed to go. Unfortunately, they are not able to get into the fenced off areas [where searches for human remains are underway] at this point, nor to undamaged buildings with pets inside them, which are within the closed zone.
“This is not due to lack of effort on their part, nor ours,” Haynes stipulated. “We wish so badly we could help these animals and the locals who are so distraught and love them. There are a handful of other animal rescue organizations like ourselves who are doing their best to capture stray pets/community cats/loose dogs and get them medical help when needed.
“We are very worried about the animals inside the fenced-off closed zone,” Haynes said. “Indoor pets who are in buildings haven’t had food or water in more than a week. Outdoor pets may have escaped the fire, but need rescuing, and likely need medical care.
“We have a long database of people who have signed releases,” Haynes continued, “and are begging us to find a way to get the county to remove their pets.
“Tried to stay publicly quiet”
“I have tried to stay publicly quiet on this topic,” Haynes explained, “because I know how important it is not to disrupt the people who are trying to handle so many logistics. But at this point I am shocked that no one has gone into intact buildings to rescue these pets. These are the locals that we all care so much about. These are their loved ones too.
“I want to stress that this is not due to lack of effort by the Maui Humane Society, or the other rescue organizations,” Haynes repeated. “Our hands are tied and we are trying to figure out how we can get the Federal Emergency Management Administration to do this.
Where is the “expert”?
“It is our understanding that they brought in an expert who they normally work with,” Haynes said, “someone trained to get animals out without disrupting the environment. I believe this person has been on the island for quite some time now, and I would like to request that our officials let us know the reason they are not yet pulling animals out. We understand the area needs to be contained. We understand why we are not in there. But we don’t understand why the estimated 38% of cleared areas [as of the evening of August 17, 2023] do not yet have somebody removing live animals.
“Additionally,” Haynes pointed out, “the many loose animals who have not eaten for over a week are surely trying to find food amongst the rubble. Trapping them on the open roads within the closed zone is the best way to keep the integrity of the burned areas they are trying to protect. Roads that first responders are currently driving on. County of Maui and FEMA,” Haynes pleaded, “please explain what is being done to remove the animals who are still alive.”
San Diego & Phoenix humane societies sent help
Both the San Diego Humane Society and the Arizona Humane Society reportedly flew personnel to Maui to help with rescuing animals. Both have had extensive experience working with FEMA in previous disaster areas, including after wildfires.
The San Diego Humane Society team posted that it “brought 12 dogs who were left behind after the Lahaina fires to safety,” but offered no details of how or when, and said nothing about cats.
“Maybe if enough of us call?”
Save Maui Cats founder Mike Willinsky, a Lahaina resident, posted complaint similar to that of Haynes.
“Federal police won’t let the Maui Humane Society or rescuers into non-burn areas to save surviving cats and other pets,” Willinsky confirmed, asking displaced Lahaina residents with animals left behind to “send me a short video of you saying that you lost your house and your pet to the fire and that you are devastated. That it gives you hope knowing that there are lots of pets still alive in the fire zone? Can you spread the word with anyone who has lost their home and pets and ask them to send me a short video saying that too?
“Maybe if enough of us call,” Willensky hoped, “they will allow us into the non-burn zones to trap.”
“The roads have been opened”
Haynes on the morning of August 16, 2023, had been optimistic.
“The roads have been opened again,” Haynes posted then, “so we are going to pick up some cats who do not have burns, but need other medical treatment. We are also bringing in all of our carriers for locals to use, and we have a shipment of another 15 or so arriving this afternoon, which we will take tomorrow. We have some traps and other equipment for when animals make their way out of the closed zones.
“There are still pets in the standing buildings that were evacuated, but did not burn,” Haynes said then. “They are behind the fence line. We are really hoping that our officials are going to get to those animals before they perish.
“The Maui Humane Society has a database with all the animals awaiting rescue,” Haynes noted, and would like to help them as much as the rest of us. This is such a delicate and excruciating situation.”
Haynes also posted a list of three locations set up by the Maui Humane Society and other local animal charities to assist found animals.
Recommendations from Kitty Charm Farm
“If you are evacuated or having a hard time caring for your pets,” Haynes advised, “you may take them to the Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation in Wailuku. They are providing temporary boarding.
“If there is a colony cat who has access to food and is not in a dangerous area,” Haynes said, “the cat is probably best where it already is. If the cat is in an area that is unsafe for the animal, or you think the cat might be a lost pet, please call the Maui Humane Society, who can scan the cat and figure out the next best decision. We hope to be on site soon, helping with this as well.
“As soon as the area is opened up a bit,” Haynes said, “we have local rescues we have equipped with scanners, traps & other items that will be helpful.
Survivors tell their stories
Many Lahaina residents did escape with their animals, but little else.
“The mountain behind us caught on fire and nobody told us jack,” Vilma Reed, 63, told Agence France-Presse.
Reed evacuated with her daughter, grandson, and two cats in the car that became their temporary home, she said.
“Mike Cicchino did a U-turn, ran into his house and told his wife they needed to leave,” reported Claire Galoforo and Matt Sedensky of Associated Press.
“They ran to the car with five dogs,” but found that “Access to the main highway — the only road leading in and out of Lahaina — was cut off by barricades set up by authorities. The roadblocks forced Cicchino and the line of [other cars fleeing] onto Front Street,” which was already jammed with cars on fire.
“Could only see the white dogs”
Abandoning their car, Cicchino and his wife “got the dogs out. But it was impossible to know which way to run,” Galoforo and Sedensky narrated.
“The black smoke was so thick they could see only the white dogs, not the three dark ones, and they lost them.”
Like many others, Cicchino and his wife fled into the sea.
“Cicchino ran up and down the seawall, shouting his lost dogs’ names,” Galoforo and Sedensky continued.
After five to six hours of crouching as low as they could in the water, dodging embers and coughing smoke, Cicchino and his wife escaped with three of their dogs, whose fur was singed, not knowing what became of the other two.
Rescued dog on a rolling suitcase
“A few blocks away, Kehau Kaauwai grabbed her dog and some clothes,” Galoforo and Sedensky added.
“Anne Landon was chatting with others in her senior apartment complex. She said she felt a sudden blast of hot air that must have been more than 100 degrees. She ran to her unit and grabbed her purse and her 15-pound dog, La Vida.”
Landon too had to abandon her car.
“She put the dog on top of her rolling suitcase and dragged it down Front Street to the beach,” Galoforo and Sedensky said.
Landon’s dog survived, but “wouldn’t eat for two days,” Galoforo and Sedensky finished.
“When Kalea Dean saw the brush fire threatening her Lahaina home,” posted Neighborhood Cats, whose national programs director Bryan Kortis lives on Maui, “she quickly ushered her family into their truck. With only moments to spare, she rushed back into the house to grab what mattered to her most: her cats, including Farrah, a feral tabby she had been slowly socializing.
“Kalea’s family and her cats escaped the flames, but their home did not. Like the surrounding buildings, it burnt to the ground, incinerating everything inside.
“Kalea is one of Maui’s most prolific trappers, every week bringing ferals to the local clinic for spay/neuter, rescuing kittens and doing whatever she can to help the island’s cats,” Neighborhood Cats continued.
“But the fire destroyed her collection of traps, expensive commodities on an isolated island. With injured and frightened cats wandering the ash-filled streets of Lahaina, Kalea had lost not only her childhood home, but the ability to pursue her passion.
“When Neighborhood Cats heard of Kalea’s plight,” the posting concluded, “we immediately replaced many of her lost traps, using funds donated to our Maui Wildfire Relief Fund. Now, as soon as the authorities give the green light to enter the disaster zone, she is ready to rescue pet cats who need to be reunited with distraught owners and trap ferals in need of treatment.”
“3,000 animals believed displaced”
“An estimated 3,000 animals are believed to have been displaced by the Maui wildfires, many of them likely needing ‘intense medical care,’” a Maui Humane Society spokesperson told Marlene Lenthang of NBC on August 15, 2023.
Maui Humane Society director of marketing and communications Katie Shannon told Ed Komenda and Haven Daley of Associated Press that the organization had taken in 52 animals as of August 14, 2023, including “chickens, love birds, guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, cats,” and even a pig.
Some of the dogs, Shannon said, had suffered “pads burned down to the bone.”
Only eight animals from Lahaina had been reunited with their people.
Maui Humane Society chief executive Lisa Labrecque anticipated gaining greater access to the Lahaina fire zone, and “asked that deceased animals not be moved or destroyed so they can be cataloged and checked for identification,” Komenda and Daley reported.
“Growing need to house displaced owned pets”
“Thanks to your generosity,” Kelsie-Kei Noelani posted to Facebook for the Maui Humane Society, “MHS is extremely well stocked with all the essential small animal pet supplies. Food, treats, litter, potty pads, kennels, bowls, etc. are being distributed to the community, and everyone receiving has been so so thankful. If anyone has connections or access to large animal feed,” Noelani asked, “there are pigs, goats, and horses who need food as well.
The Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation acknowledged “a growing need for HARF to house displaced owned pets from the wildfire evacuation areas.
“As first responders,” the Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation continued via social media, “the HARF team brought much-needed pet food and other supplies into the disaster zone in Lahaina in the days right after the fire. Now that FEMA, the Red Cross, and other disaster agencies are on site, HARF is pivoting its efforts to address the growing need in the community for the housing and care of displaced owned pets,” setting up “temporary dog runs, kennels, catios, bunny hutches, and other safe in our 6,000 square foot barn.
“As a safety net for the community, we are committed to keeping pets with their families, now more than ever, as so many have already lost so much,” HARF said.
“Be really cautious, guys”
Every Maui-based animal aid organization reported an urgent need for funding, as big international animal charities with no boots on the ground saturated social media with appeals.
Cautioned Hawaii animal advocate Shannon Matson, whose father Bob Northrop was killed by pit bulls in Ocean View Estates on the Big Island on August 1, 2023, “Be really cautious guys. Don’t donate to these organizations trying to capitalize on our local disaster. The local organizations on the ground in Maui need our support more. Please donate to Maui Humane Society or Hawaii Animal Kuleana Alliance,” Matson recommended, “if you want to help animals from the fire get treatment and/or reunited with their humans.”
ASPCA president cancels his free subscription
ANIMALS 24-7 on August 13, 2023 offered the same advice in The wrong sort of vultures circle over fire-hit Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, specifying “That includes the American SPCA [ASPCA], Animal Survival International, Best Friends Animal Society, Humane Society of the U.S., International Fund for Animal Welfare, Network for Animals, and another suddenly very noisy player, Greater Good Charities of Seattle, Washington, whose online appeals are illustrated with a stock photo of a dog in a burned building that ANIMALS 24-7 has found used in other organizations’ appeals at least since 2009.
“Local animal charities that are on the scene in Maui, verifiably involved, with annual budgets of less than ASPCA president Matt Bershadker’s compensation of $966,000-plus per year,” ANIMALS 24-7 pointed out, “include Kitty Charm Farm, the Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation, the Maui Humane Society, and Save Maui Cats, whose work ANIMALS 24-7 has described in previous coverage and below.”
Bershadker responded by cancelling his free subscription to ANIMALS 24-7.