Thursday, February 1, 2024

Remembering the Lahaina wildfire victims


There have been all sorts of conspiracy theories circulating about the Lahaina wildfire on Hawaii last August.  I've seen claims that over four hundred people had died or were "missing", and that this was being hidden because it would reflect badly on the mismanagement of the situation by local authorities.  It was also claimed that homeowners were being forbidden access to their properties, so that they would be forced to pay mortgages in the absence of any insurance payout (which depends on assessors being allowed access to the insured property), and therefore forced to sell their burned-out land to those wanting to develop it.

It turns out those claims were overblown, to put it mildly.

Hawaii officials said Friday that they have identified the last of the 100 known victims of the wildfire that destroyed Lahaina in August.

That victim was Lydia Coloma, 70, Maui police said.

Identifying those who perished in the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in more than a century has been a long, arduous process.

Forensic experts and cadaver dogs have had to sift through ash searching for bodies that were possibly cremated, and authorities have been collecting DNA samples from victims’ family members.

. . .

The number of those who remain unaccounted for has also fallen — to just a few from a previous high of nearly 400, according to the Maui Police Department.

The victims ranged in age from 7 to 97, but more than two-thirds were in their 60s or older, according to Maui police’s list of known victims. Several were residents of a low-income senior apartment complex.

Authorities reopened the burn zone to residents and property owners who lost homes while urging returning residents not to sift through the ashes for fear of raising toxic dust.

Authorities began clearing debris from residential lots this month.

There's more at the link.

I think many people have little or no idea of how thoroughly a wildfire can destroy a property and its contents.  I've seen it, up close and personal.  Everything flammable - including human bodies - is reduced to ash and cinders, sometimes making it impossible to recognize a cadaver by sight alone.  Many bodies will be completely hidden beneath a thin blanket of fine gray ash, which must be very carefully removed in order to reveal what's beneath it.  Move too quickly and/or too aggressively, and whatever's beneath the ash will be removed along with it, or blown away by the wind, or dissolved by rain.  There's no easy or quick way to do it - and the authorities were dealing with square miles of devastation, not just a house or two.  I'm sure they did the best they could, but in reality there's simply no way to speed up the process over that great an expanse.  That's why access to the area was restricted, because you can't look for bodies while families and insurance companies are trying to clear their properties and rebuild.

I wish conspiracy theorists were not so prevalent here in the USA.  They destroy their own credibility by their stupid, unrealistic claims, but in the process they "poison the well", so that nobody believes anybody else.  "You can't tell me I'm wrong!  Prove it!" they chant, when challenged about their false claims - but they never bother to prove their claims, putting the onus to do that on those who challenge them.  Another utterly stupid conspiracy theory doing the rounds at present is that the Taylor Swift/Travis Kelce romance is a re-election ploy by the Biden administration, an "election psy-op" being mounted with the active support of the NFL.  How anybody can actually believe such drivel is beyond me . . . it defies logic, reason and sanity.  Nevertheless, it's out there.

I have the deepest sympathy for those who lost loved ones and property in the Lahaina fire:  and even deeper sympathy for those who've had to endure such conspiracy theorizing while coming to terms with the partial or complete destruction of their families, their plans for the future . . . everything.  I wish it were possible to force the conspiracy theorists to pay a heavy monetary burden for the mental and emotional anguish they've inflicted on the survivors.  Sadly, I don't think that will happen, but in simple justice, it should.



Mind your own business said...

The problem you want to create is about who gets to decide what is a conspiracy theory or not. That power, as we have seen all too often, is an invitation to abuse it for propaganda purposes. Any limit on free speech is anathema to our nation's founding principles.

I wish it were possible to force those advocating limits to free speech "to pay a heavy monetary burden" for the betrayal of our founding principles and the corruption and authoritarianism that they will inevitably inflict on the country.

Peter said...

@Mind your own business: You'll note that at no time did I suggest prevention of publication, or censorship, of anything. I said only that evidence should be provided to substantiate a claim. If someone publishes a way-out-there conspiracy theory based on nothing more than their febrile imagination, and the facts later prove that the claim was false, then I see no threat to free speech in making the claimant compensate those negatively affected by his or her lies. That's not limiting free speech: that's making sure that fake speech has consequences.

Hamsterman said...

I've generally found that if one looks into anything deep enough, there are a lot of oddities/mistakes that can be found. Since we humans look for patterns in anything (ever look at clouds?) those anomalies get fit together into something that may or may not be true. I've even see authors take advantage of that when developing plots and character motivations in their books...

Stan_qaz said...

I think many of today's "conspiracy theorists' are paid shills tossing out pre-made tales to help discredit the folks who are providing real information.

Peter's suggestion of responsibility for what you are claiming is a good one that would make the fakes and shills a bit less damaging.

See the problem with "free speech but no responsibility for what you say" in the UK Trump dossier trial reports.

Peteforester said...

There wouldn't be so many "conspiracy theorists" if they weren't eventually proven right so many times...

boron said...

That awful instrument, known as the pendulum, goes both ways.
Very similar to what I believe Ben Franklin pointed out, "How much security do you want to trade for your freedom?" or something like that, anyhoo.
How far do you want to trade free speech for what might, by some, be considered slanderous statements - with the intent of inflating yourself while deliberately hurting others.

1. I guess I'm just tired of the "whineys" being offended by any/everything someone says. I was totally unable to believe it way back when ni**ardly became an offensive word coming as it does from a Germanic/Scandinavian root word meaning miser, as opposed to the Latin word for black.

2. I guess I'm just tired of lawyers continuously looking for ways to destroy our wonderful country while keeping the courts busy and their pockets filled to overflowing with what is mostly bravo sierra.

3. I'm essentially a capitalist; let the public decide how far they want to be influenced by the media/ and bloggers who try so hard to get the chickens in our barnyard running back and forth aimlessly and cowering in the henhouse: "The sky is falling, the sky is falling!."

Problem is parents are no longer reading their kids fables/stories like "Chicken Little - we all know what they're reading the kids instead: "Johnny has Two Mommies".

I think I've ranted enough for today,
Thanks for your indulgence.

Anonymous said...

Are you saying the stories about the fire are not possible?
How do you judge when someone is making up stuff and when they are telling the truth?
Are you saying that people have to pay for 'free' speech? Is lie telling not free speech?
And, how far does that go? All the way to fictional books and movies?
In this post, have the people telling the mentioned story provided evidence or proof of its factuality?

Maybe I missed the point - sorry.

HMS Defiant said...

I remember having a senior chief out in the Persian Gulf who would gently push a little rumor and see how long it took to sweep the ship. It was a little ship. He could put one in the wild just before lunch and by dinner it had spread and mutated unbelievably.
As the other writers commented, the dire fact is that most of our conspiracy theories about the expansion of government are spot on. You see it just in little things like the hunter biden laptop and the russian collusion bs. It was all 100% our government lying to everyone and getting away with it due to the complicity and full agreement of 100% of the main stream media. And yet none of it was at all true.
That and restricting obviously unclassified information and data for no reason (Kennedy assassination) or the mrna vaccine makers being given 77 years of total secrecy and no evidence ever produced that the vaccines were tested or even useful before we got forced to take them.
Yea, it's a ripe field for full blown conspiracy theorists and whose fault is that?

Old NFO said...

One of the reasons for this dropping out of the media was the lousy management of the fire by local officials. I wouldn't be surprised if they were more than happy to see the 'conspiracy theories' out there to take the heat off them.

TCK said...

You live in an age where half the First World thinks we need to ban cows and gas stoves or the ocean will rise up and drown us all.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Anonymous said...

Who was negatively affected, and how? Hurt feelings don't count. I have to disagree with you here Peter. You're essentially opening the door to punishing people for proposing theories that are later proven wrong. When no facts are provided by the authorities, and they actively suppress or withhold I formation, people will fill in the blanks for themselves. Mny will be wrong, but that is not a criminal offense. Unless someone is purposefully spreading false information with intent to harm, giving the authorities power to punish speech is a bad idea.

Anonymous said...

Safe and effective.

lynn said...

Alex Jones has had some serious damages for his free speech to victims of the Connecticut. I do not condone his speech but the damages are not reasonable or right.

And Donald Trump just got tagged with a $83 million judgement for telling the public that he did not rape that woman. That is not right either.

Dan said...

Conspiracy theories are always based in reality. There's always a grain of truth involved. In Lahaina odds are there will be deceased who will never be found or identified due to the fierceness of the fire or that they drowned and were taken by the sea while trying to stay alive. As for unscrupulous people and companies trying to take financial advantage of the victims...of course they exist. Such entities are always around trying to get rich at the expense of others. So there is without doubt victims of financial chicanery in Lahaina, just like there were such victims in Paradise CA. after the Camp Fire. The problem is the signal to noise ratio we get these days from all the people posting all manner of things. The key is separating the two.

Porter Rockwell said...

riverrider said...

i don't know about lahaina, but something IS up with swifty. 15 dif "news" magazines ran cover "articles" about her and her beau on the same day, all word for word copies. they were obviously directed and provided the copy by someone. who?

Andrew Smith said...

We had a very similar reality with the aftermath of a major bushfire here in Australia. Residents who had evacuated promptly found themselves unable to access the town again as the police had no choice but to declare the entire area a crime scene until proven otherwise.

It took quite a while to move from house to house and carefully sift through the ashes. There were some remains that were only discovered on a follow-up inspection, having been missed the first time.

It's hugely inconvenient for those denied access to their own homes after the fire has finished, but it takes time to do the searching properly. There's no other way to do it and you'd never hear the end of it if it turned out there was a crime committed which then became the starting point for the massive fire.

Anonymous said...

Probably her publicist.

JG said...

I watched some local personal made videos of the burn. Some issues were pointed out that were very clear and interesting. Some of the burning was certain high temps indicating something abnormal was causing the burn.

I also heard that Oprah in Montecito, CA had massive wildfires near her land but it did not affect her land. Oprah bought the affected land. She is doing the same in Maui as her massive acres were not affected by the burn, but she is now trying to buy up the burned land.

Will said...

HMS Defiant:
Fauci started applying for PATENTS on covid19 in the 90's. He applied for a patent on the mRNA vaxx in '06!!! (didn't get it, as it was pointed out that it met none of the normal/expected vaccine results) Yeah, they know damn well what to expect from that stuff: all bad, nothing useful, and that is why the secrecy and protection orders for it. Check the life insurance business numbers for working age people. They have NEVER seen death numbers like they do now, and it breaks down to people that have been vaxxed.

Passing Peanut said...

Late to the party here, but I may as well toss my dollar in. Would've been two cents, but inflation's working overtime at the red light district just to pay rent.

Over the course of the last decade, the media at large has spent copious time and energy lying through its collective teeth and rabidly attacking the character of those who dissent.
Wall-to-wall frothing over Trump's latest morning bowel movement for eight solid years; blindly cheerleading governments as they slammed their economies face-first into the dirt, while going above and beyond the call of duty to cow anyone who dared think it wasn't such a good idea; dancing the humba-humba that everything is just fine and hunky-dory, we're doing great, the economy's booming!, all while we little folk are forced to spend more and more on merely treading water; Twitter (and its new owner) becoming a horrible cesspit of irredeemable electro-solar-powered-turbo-mecha-facism overnight, when mere months before both had been a darlings of the same people now baying in the streets for that French Revolutionary justice to smite them. These are the marquee items, certainly, but there are other, comparatively smaller stories of cultural jiggery-pokery that only affect small groups or niche interests.
My personal bugbear, being a fat nerd with narrow interests, was a little incident back in 2014, where gamers were rounded on by almost the entirety of their niche journalistic publications, all speaking in rigorous lockstep how their core audience were horrible racist mysoginistic bigoted sub-human troglodytes, while carefully curating multiple well-known fora by ejecting dissenters and wiping any trace of their existence from the servers (save for their missteps, of course) and attempting to silence any talk of the very-real network of "journalists" who, despite being from different publications, actively collaborated to push a unified narrative of hate and division across the entirety of the hobby.
That made the leviathan's shrieking about president Trump sound awfully familiar, if at a volume unexpected at the time. And this is just my own observation, from around the time I started to notice this behavior; this might not have been the first time such collusion happened in the industry, but it cast some hard aspersions on my opinions of it.

My point is, there are a number of smaller, perhaps personal instances of encountering the coprophagic beast that is the media and the modern attempts at journalism which damage its credibility in smaller circles, perhaps fatally so. A sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice, and to these groups and individuals, nigh-on every self-proclaimed journalist (and certainly every large media corporation) has proven to be bumbling fools on their best days. And the thought goes, [i]"Well, if they keep wailing and gnashing their teeth about this guy here, well, maybe he's right about this. I'll just have a look. What's the harm? And hey, who's this other chap he recommends...?"[/i]
(Side note: that's how I stumbled to this blog a while back, courtesy of... oh, BigCountryExpat, I think?)
To be certain, financial penalties might go a long way to stanching the wound of baseless accusations and patently false tales. But who could honestly trust the system we have at current to apply such decisions with even a modicum of balance? It would be little more than another method for the leviathan to stamp out dissent, while allowing the occasional fig leaf judgement of a [i]mere[/i] few hundred million dollars to provide the specter of legitimacy.

About the Taylor Swift theory: it's just as possible all the "reporters" are phenomenally lazy, and either copying one another's homework or getting an AI to churn out the byline. Sufficiently-advance incompetence, after all.