Maui’s rebuilding after deadly wildfires could cost more than $5 billion, officials predict

Rebuilding on the Hawaiian island of Maui following this week devastating forest fires — which left at least 89 people dead and scores more missing — could cost another $5.5 billion, officials predicted on Saturday.

At least 2,207 buildings were estimated to have been damaged or destroyed in the wildfires, according to preliminary figures from the University of Hawaii Pacific Disaster Center and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It was assumed that 86% was residential and 9% was commercial.

The research center estimated that the fires “uncovered $5.52 billion in capital,” which is defined as the “estimated cost of reconstruction.”

Additionally, an estimated 4,500 residents will require ongoing emergency shelters during this process, the research center said.

Lahaina fires
Destroyed buildings and homes are pictured after a wildfire in the town of Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui August 11, 2023.

PAULA RAMON/AFP via Getty Images

Most of the devastation was concentrated in the region historic town of Lahaina. Hawaii Gov. Josh Green previously estimated that about 80% of the city was destroyed in the Lahaina fire, the most devastating of three large wildfires that broke out on the island Tuesday and burned an estimated 3.39 square miles. The Lahaina fire is about 85% contained, Maui County officials reported late Friday.

According to the Maui Economic Development Board, about 80% of the island’s economy depends on the tourism industry. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Maui alone had 1.49 million visitors between January and June of this year.

Lahaina was a draw for tourists who served as the economic lifeblood of this once thriving city, now mostly in ruins.

Lahaina residents return home to survey the devastation


“There aren’t any real jobs left in town or anything,” Lahaina resident Greg Knickerbocker told APTN News. “And now the bakery I worked at has burned down.”

Kila Zuttermeister returned to Lahaina to find his family home still standing, but surrounded by entire neighborhoods that had been reduced to rubble.

“The whole city just isn’t the same anymore, it’s not even here,” said Zuttermeister.

Since the wildfires broke out, Maui’s Kahului Airport has been overflowing with thousands of tourists trying to fly out.

Julie Brasil, of California, told CBS News that she and her family have been making trips to Maui for more than three decades. However, her last trip this week ended in a 30-hour evacuation in a small rental car.

“There’s a long line of cars and I’m like, ‘Am I going to get out of here? What’s going to happen?’” Brasil told CBS News.

LaTanya Parker previously honeymooned in Maui and returned for her wedding anniversary last week, but said she has no plans to return “anytime soon.”

“You know, Hawaii is beautiful, but it was a very traumatic experience,” Parker said.

The cause of the fires remains unknown. When the Lahaina fire broke out Tuesday, chaos and confusion reigned. Emergency sirens were not activated on the island. Local residents also said the electricity had been cut and they had no access to television or radio. They also said they had not received any SMS notifications. The townspeople only fled when the flames were on their heels.

Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez announced Friday that her agency will conduct a “comprehensive review of critical decision-making and policies in place leading up to, during and after the wildfires.”

Jonathan Vigliotti and Carter Evans contributed to this report.

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