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Progress continues in Hawaii’s rebuilding efforts after wildfire

July 1, 2024

Community makes strides in rebuilding after devastating wildfire in Hawaii

As reported by Jennifer Sinco Kelleher for AP News, nearly a year after wildfire devastated Kim Ball’s Hawaii community, signs of progress are emerging.

The empty lot where Ball’s house once stood symbolizes the ongoing rebuilding efforts following the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century.

The fire, which occurred on August 8, 2023, destroyed thousands of homes and claimed 102 lives in Lahaina.

Ball greeted a group of Hawaii reporters on Wednesday, invited by Maui County officials to tour fire-ravaged sites.

He pointed out the gravel covering the lots on his street, indicating which properties have been cleared of debris and toxic ash.

Green shoots are now visible amidst the remaining charred vegetation on Komo Mai Street.

Ball shared that he was able to obtain a building permit quickly because his home was only about five years old, and his contractor still had the plans.

He plans to rebuild the same house with only minor changes, saying: “We may change the color of the paint.”

First homes start reconstruction in Lahaina

On nearby Malanai Street, construction has already begun on Gene Milne’s property.

Milne’s home was the first to start construction because his previous home was not fully completed and had open permits.

Before the fire, he was living in an accessory dwelling known locally as an “ohana unit,” while the main home was about 70% finished.

Milne recalled his disbelief at the fire’s approach, saying: “I was in complete denial that the fire would ever get to my home. Sure enough, when I came back a couple days later it was gone.”

He described the construction underway as “extremely healing” and expressed his anticipation for the future: “I’m looking forward to that day where I can have a cocktail on the lanai, enjoy Maui — home.”

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen highlighted the significance of the construction at Milne’s property: “It’s a milestone for us.

I think the rest of the community can use this as sort of a jumping off point, and say, ‘If they can do it, we can do it, too.’”

Ongoing challenges in the rebuilding process

Despite the progress, the rebuilding of Lahaina is expected to be long and complex.

It remains unclear when displaced residents will be able to return and whether they will be able to afford the reconstruction costs.

So far, the county has approved 23 residential building permits, with an additional 70 under review.

Mayor Bissen emphasized: “We’re not focused on the speed — we’re focused on the safety.”

The tour also included a visit to a former outlet mall undergoing debris removal.

This mall had been a popular shopping destination for both tourists and locals.

Another stop was at the site of a beloved, giant 151-year-old banyan tree on Lahaina’s historic Front Street.

The tree has shown significant new growth thanks to preservation efforts led by arborists.

Tim Griffith, Maui County’s arborist, explained the care given to the tree: “Mainly just water. Trees are … going to heal themselves, especially when they’re stressed.”

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