HONOLULU (AP) — Maui police held a news conference on Monday to show 16 minutes of body camera footage taken the day a wildfire tore through Lahaina town in August, including video of officers rescuing 15 people from a coffee shop and taking a severely burned man to a hospital.
Chief John Pelletier said his department faced a deadline to release 20 hours of body camera footage in response to an open records request and wanted to provide some context for what people would see before the video came out.
Earlier this month, Maui County provided the AP with 911 call recordings in response to an open records request.
The 16 minutes of video released at the news conference in Wailuku showed officers evacuating a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf shop at a supermarket on Front Street, a neighborhood that largely burned in the blaze. Officers ushered out 15 people from the coffee shop as smoke swirled in the sky around them, loaded the group into police SUVs and took them to the Lahaina Civic Center.
In another clip, an officer finds a badly burned man at a shopping center and put him in the back seat of his patrol car. “I’ll just take you straight to the hospital. That sound good?” the officer can be heard asking the man, who responds: “Yeah.”
One video shows an officer tying a tow strap to a metal gate blocking a dirt road escape route while residents use a saw to cut the gate open so a line of cars can get past. Multiple shots show officers going door-to-door telling residents to evacuate.
The fast-moving wildfire on Aug. 8 killed at least 99 people and burned more than 2,000 structures. Those who made it out recounted running into barricades and roads that were blocked due to the flames and downed utility poles.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. It may have been sparked by downed power lines that ignited dry, invasive grasses. An AP investigation found the answer may lie in an overgrown gully beneath Hawaiian Electric Co. power lines and something that harbored smoldering embers from an initial fire that burned in the morning and then rekindled in high winds that afternoon.
Powerful winds related to a hurricane passing south of Hawaii spread embers from house to house and prevented firefighters from sending up helicopters to fight the blaze from the air.