Heart of Hawaii’s Historic Lahaina, Burned in Wildfire, Reopens to Residents, Business Owners

LAHAINA — The heart of Lahaina, the historic town on the Hawaiian island of Maui that burned in a deadly wildfire that killed at least 100 people, reopened Monday to residents and business owners holding day passes.

The renewed access marks an important emotional milestone for victims of the Aug. 8 fire, but much work remains to be done to safely clear properties of burned debris and rebuild.

The reopened areas include Banyan Tree Park, home to a 150-year-old tree that burned in the fire but that is now sprouting new leaves, Lahaina’s public library, an elementary school and popular restaurants.

An oceanfront section of Front Street, where the fire ripped through a traffic jam of cars trying to escape town, reopened Friday.

Authorities are continuing to recommend that people entering scorched lots wear protective gear to shield them from hazards.

On Sunday, the state Department of Health released test results confirming the ash and dust left by the fire is toxic and that arsenic is the biggest concern. Arsenic is a heavy metal that adheres to wildfire dust and ash, the department said.

The tests examined ash samples collected Nov. 7-8 from 100 properties built from the 1900s to the 2000s. Samples also showed high levels of lead, which was used to paint houses built before 1978.

The clean up is still in its early stages. For the past few months, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been removing batteries, propane tanks, pesticides and other hazards from the town’s more than 2,000 destroyed buildings.

Residents and business owners have been able to visit their properties after the EPA has finished clearing their lots. In some cases, residents — often wearing white full-body suits, masks and gloves — have found family heirlooms and mementos after sifting through the charred rubble of their homes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin hauling away the remaining debris and take it to a landfill after it gets permission from property owners.

The EPA and the state’s health department have installed 53 air monitors in Lahaina and Upcountry Maui, where a separate fire burned homes in early August. The department is urging people to avoid outdoor activity when monitor levels show elevated air pollution and to close windows and doors.