As residents return to Lahaina, Health Department urges caution | News, Sports, Jobs

Cars and pedestrians on Front Street emerge from a thick cloud of smoke as they evacuate Lahaina Tuesday afternoon. The state Department of Health is cautioning residents to wear masks with strong filters as they return to Lahaina and sift through remains of burned structures. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The state Department of Health is urging caution for residents and business owners who are being allowed to return to their properties in the Lahaina area.

Debris and unstable structures as well as ash left behind by the fire are creating hazards, and the DOH recommends the following tips for those returning to the area:

• Keep children away. Children should not help with cleanup efforts and should not play in areas with ash or debris.

• Protect yourself. People should wear protective face masks, goggles, gloves, long sleeves, pants, socks and closed-toed shoes (to avoid skin contact with ash).

• Protect others. DOH recommends changing clothes and showering before being in contact with sensitive groups like children, pregnant people, people with asthma or COPD, and kupuna.

A Wainee Street home burns Tuesday in Lahaina. The state Department of Health are cautioning residents as they return to their homes to be aware of ash, debris and other hazards. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

• Avoid heat stress. Be careful of over-exhaustion. Stay hydrated, take breaks and consider bringing shade.

• Wear masks. Cloth masks only partially protect you from ash. Instead, DOH recommends wearing a tight-fitting respirator mask. Look for the words NIOSH or N95 printed on the mask. N95 masks are best but paint, dust and surgical masks can also be used during cleanup.

• Be cautious of ash: This may cause irritation of the skin, nose and throat, and may cause coughing. Ash and dust (particularly from burned buildings) may contain toxic and cancer-causing chemicals including asbestos, arsenic and lead.

• Be aware of ash pits: Ash pits are holes full of hot ashes, created by burned trees and stumps. Falling into ash pits or landing in them with your hands or feet can cause serious burns.

• Avoid washing ash into storm drains. Do not use vacuums or leaf blowers that will push more ash into the air.

• Be careful of debris. Broken glass, exposed electrical wires (whether or not they are “live”), nails, wood, metal, plastics and other solid objects commonly found in areas of fire damage can cause puncture wounds, cuts, electrical injuries and burns from smoldering materials. Please use caution.

• Maintain a safe distance from any propane tank that may have been impacted by heat or fire.

• Check with authorities before entering any remaining structures. Unstable buildings and structures may contain hazardous materials and could collapse and cause injury.

• Approach stored materials with caution. Containers could have moved into unstable positions and be at risk for falling and causing injuries.

• Wash carefully anything that can be found and salvaged with clean water and soap.

DOH also reminded the public to take care of their mental health. When people experience a disaster, they may be in shock and experience a wide range of emotions, the department said.

DOH is offering crisis mental health services and expanding hours to those experiencing emotional or psychological distress as a result of the Maui wildfires.

To receive emergency services on Maui, contact DOH at (808) 984-2150 or via email at or in person at 121 Mahalani St. in Wailuku. Clinic hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

DOH will have expanded clinic hours this Saturday and Sunday to accommodate immediate needs from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Hawai’i CARES crisis line is available 24/7 by calling (808) 832-3100 or (800) 753-6879, or calling, texting or chatting 988.

DOH will continue to coordinate with federal, state and county officials to ensure the safety of residents and visitors as they return to the affected area.

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