GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARADVERTISER.COM | Inspections of properties continued Wednesday near Komohana Place, Hamau Place and Ainakea Road in Lahaina.
The beginnings of a Lahaina wildfire victims compensation fund were announced Wednesday by Gov. Josh Green, three months after the disaster that killed at least 99 people. More than $150 million will be made available to people who lost family members or were seriously injured in the Aug. 8 fire. Money in what has been named the Maui Recovery Fund will be available to such survivors who are willing to release parties from any tort liability in the fire.
Green said details on how the program will work still need to be finalized, but that he expects initial payments can be made between April and June to qualified applicants, and that expected future growth of the fund will expand use to cover people who lost homes in the wind-driven blaze. Participation is optional, and attorneys donating their time will be available to advise interested participants, according to Green.
Payments from the fund are being offered in part as a way to provide monetary compensation more quickly as a trade-off to what could be more money obtained through litigation that involves uncertainty and might take years.
“We want to make sure that we care for families, that they can move on to some degree with their lives,” Green said. “No amount of money will ever help anyone deal with the loss of a loved one. However, it does make a difference as they rebuild. It might help them rebuild a home sooner. It might help them care for their grand children. So that’s why we are doing it.”
So far, several entities named as defendants in numerous lawsuits over fire losses — the state, Maui County, Hawaiian Electric and Kamehameha Schools have committed over $150 million to the fund, Green said. Hawaiian Electric said it will contribute up to $75 million, and this contribution will come from insurance proceeds and not customers.
Based on only the roughly $150 million initial commitment, families of the 99 people killed would share $1.5 million each if they all participated and no additional money was added to the fund. About a dozen people were severely injured in the fire that destroyed most of Lahaina town.
Green also said that an enhanced fund in the longer term will be used to help Lahaina fire survivors in other ways that include rebuilding homes they lost in the fire.
Property damage is estimated at $5.6 billion from the fire, which destroyed roughly 2,200 properties, including around 3,500 homes.
Much of the litigation has been directed against Hawaiian Electric, with plaintiffs alleging that a power line blown down amid gale-force winds started the fire. Some of the lawsuits claim that private and public owners of land filled with dry brush also are liable for the disaster.
As part of Green’s announcement Wednesday delivered live on his Facebook page and on ‘Olelo Community Media TV followed by media interviews, the governor said legislation will be introduced in the upcoming session of the Legislature, which begins in January, to comprehensively guard against future disasters.
The legislative package and the Maui Recovery Fund together with ongoing programs related to the Lahaina wildfire including $120 million provided for housing assistance, $12.5 million in forgivable business loans and $100 million for families with children affected by the fire — are being referred to by Green as the “One ‘Ohana Initiative.”