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Hawaii officials are outlining their efforts to prevent another devastating wildfire before a dry season

HONOLULU (AP) — As Maui continues to recover from the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century, Hawaii officials are trying to prevent another similar disaster ahead of what is expected to be a dry, fire-prone season, Gov. Josh Green said Friday Wildfire Preparedness and Risk Reduction Month declared.

The August 8, 2023 wildfire destroyed much of the city of Lahaina and killed 101 people.

Of the approximately 3,000 displaced households, about 600 still need to be placed in long-term housing, Green said. More than 60 people have applied for “One Ohana,” a $175 million fund named after the Hawaiian word for family to compensate the families of people killed, he said.

“We have now passed the nine-month mark since the tragedy and today is day 276,” Green said. “Most people have now gone through a lot of recovery and healing. But there are still people struggling with where they are.”

Climate change has worsened Hawaii's drought, drying out the archipelago's vegetation and increasing the risk of destructive fires. Wildfires used to be rare in Hawaii, but fires have become more common in recent years.

Green warned of a “very dry season.” Officials highlighted wildfire preparedness efforts, including expanding a network of remote weather stations, approving a state fire marshal and encouraging neighborhoods to band together to be recognized as “Firewise” communities.

Ed Sniffen, director of the state Department of Transportation, described the agency's actions, including testing evacuation routes and planting native, drought-resistant vegetation.

Hiro Toiya, Honolulu's emergency management director, urged residents to have holdalls with important documents and extra underwear ready for quick evacuations.

“And I’m not being facetious and just bringing extra underwear,” he said. “This can really improve your quality of life immediately after the emergency.”

The new head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, Amos Lonokailua-Hewett, was expected to be among the officials at Friday's news conference. But with thunderstorm warnings from the National Weather Service, “he decided to hold back just in case,” said James Barros, administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

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Anna Harden

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