LAHAINA, Hawaii: This week, officials are expected to begin lifting restrictions on entry to the burn zone in Lahaina, Hawaii, destroyed nearly seven weeks ago on August 8 by the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century.
Authorities will begin allowing the first residents and property owners to return to their properties in the burn zone, many for the first time since it was demolished.
The wildfire killed some 97 people and destroyed more than 2,000 buildings, most of them being houses.
Authorities have divided the burned area into 17 zones and dozens of sub-zones. Residents or property owners of the first area to be cleared, known as Zone 1C, along Kaniau Road in the north part of Lahaina, will be allowed to return on supervised visits this week between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Those eligible were asked to pick up passes in advance over the weekend.
Officials also want to ensure that they have the space and privacy to reflect or grieve as they see fit, said Darryl Oliveira, interim administrator of the Maui Emergency Management Agency.
Last week, Hawaii Governor Josh Green said, "They anticipate some people will only want to go for a very short period of time, a few minutes to say goodbye in a way to their property. Others may want to stay several hours. They are going to be very accommodating."
Assistance, such as water, shade, washing stations, portable toilets, medical and mental healthcare, as well as transportation assistance, will be provided if required.
Non-profit groups will also offer personal protective equipment, including masks and coveralls.
Officials have warned that ash in the area could contain asbestos, lead, arsenic or other toxins.
Officials said that while some residents are keen to find jewelry, photographs or other personal items, they should not sift through the ashes for fear of raising toxic dust, which could endanger them or their neighbors downwind.