Maui disaster was 100% caused by human failure

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

We keep being told that recent wildfires that have been having a devastating impact in Canada, California, and now Maui are the result of Global Boiling.

The truth is that they are indeed caused by human beings, but due to malice (arson), incompetence (of power companies and government officials), and mismanagement (failure to manage land properly).


The Maui fire is proving to be the worst wildfire in American history, having taken over 100 lives and likely many more by the time the count is complete. The fire itself was started by downed power lines, which was poorly fought (it was declared contained before it raged out of control), was made deadly by an incompetent Emergency Management official (Karen wrote about this in her VIP column earlier today), and to cap it all off was made difficult to fight by a government official who refused to approve the use of water to fight the fire.

Yes, that’s right. One government official who had zero qualifications to be an emergency management leader chose not to warn the residents of Maui that a wildfire was raging, and another chose to withhold the necessary water that was required to fight the fire.

First, the emergency management official who decided not to warn residents.

As it is looking right now, it seems that a major red flag is that the the Maui Emergency Management Agency’s chief has no experience in emergency management. This may be a case of the top official being in over his head. Herman Andaya was hired in 2017. His background is political science and law. He has no formal education in disaster preparedness or response. When he was hired, he had never held a full-time job in emergency management.

It looks like he’s a guy who got the job because of political connections, not on merit. Andaya was chief of staff to former mayor Alan Arakawa. Andaya said that while he was chief of staff, he assisted during emergency operations and participated in online FEMA training and workshops. The kicker is that Andaya was hired over 40 other applicants for the job.


The guy was politically connected, but otherwise had no relevant experience. And when the excrement hit the rotating propeller, he failed. More than a hundred people died.

Carbon Dioxide didn’t do that. Malfeasance did.

Now to the second government official who decided that protecting the sacred water was more important than protecting the citizens of Maui.

He is a big believer in the spiritual importance of water, so he hesitated to use it for the purpose of merely fighting a dangerous wildfire.

Yes, it’s true. When the chips were down and lives were at stake, M. Kaleo Manuel of the Department of Land and Natural Resources fought against releasing water to firefighters at a crucial time.

With wildfires ravaging West Maui on Aug. 8, a state water official delayed the release of water that landowners wanted to help protect their property from fires. The water standoff played out over much of the day and the water didn’t come until too late.

The dispute involved the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ water resource management division and West Maui Land Co., which manages agricultural and residential subdivisions in West Maui as well as Launiupoko Irrigation Co., Launiupoko Water Co., Olowalu Water Co. and Ha’iku Town Water Association.

DLNR delayed releasing water requested by West Maui Land Co. to help prevent the spread of fire, sources familiar with the situation said.

Specifically, according to accounts of four people with knowledge of the situation, M. Kaleo Manuel, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner and DLNR’s deputy director for water resource management, initially balked at West Maui Land Co.’s requests for additional water to help prevent the fire from spreading to properties managed by the company.

According to the sources, Manuel wanted West Maui Land to get permission from a taro, or kalo, farm located downstream from the company’s property. Manuel eventually released water but not until after the fire had spread. It was not clear on Monday how much damage the fire did in the interim or whether homes were damaged.


Honestly, this is ridiculous. Battles over limited resources like water are one thing–competing over resources is a fact of human life–but people have a right to expect that in emergency situations government officials act promptly to prevent tragedies.

If you have to choose between a good harvest of taro or the lives of citizens it should not be a difficult call. Apparently, in this case, it was.

“One thing that people need to understand especially those from far away is that there’s been a great deal of water conflict on Maui for many years,” Green said. “It’s important that we’re honest about this. People have been fighting against the release of water to fight fires. I’ll leave that to you to explore.”

“We have a difficult time on Maui and other rural areas getting enough water for houses, for our people, for any response,” Green added. “But it’s important we start being honest. There are currently people still fighting in our state giving us water access to fight and prepare for fires even as more storms arise.”

Green said the state is in the midst of a “comprehensive review” by Attorney General Anne Lopez of decisions made before and during the firefighting efforts.

“There will be multiple reviews at every level,” he said.

In 2022, two Maui senators, Gil Keith-Agaran and Lynne DeCoite, introduced a measure to push DLNR to allow fresh water to be used to fight fires and pointed to West Maui as being particularly vulnerable.

The bill noted that “in 2019, West Maui suffered from an active fire season in which wildfires scorched twenty-five thousand acres of land.” It would have required DLNR to “cooperate with the counties and reservoir owners to develop protocols and agreements for the use of reservoir waters for fire safety purposes.”


That never happened. And this is the result.

There is a common human cause in all these tragedies, but it has nothing to do with anthropogenic climate change. It is malice, incompetence, and graft. Add in a dose of politicians using tragedies to push their own political agendas and you have a toxic mix that has resulted in tragedy.

When government officials refuse to release water to fight wildfires, and the wildfires themselves are started because of human causes like improperly maintained power lines, pointing to a third factor like global warming as the cause of this tragedy is disgusting. It is using a government-caused tragedy to push a government-desired political agenda.

It is, in other words, pretty disgusting.

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