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Not Jumping to Conclusions.
Methods for investigating the Lahaina Fire.
Thanks again to all of our readers, and especially to our generous paid subscribers! A special thanks to all readers who take the time to share their experiences, knowledge, and information with us.
To those who have commented on my Lahaina Fire posts: I’d like to assure you that I am just now starting my investigation and have not drawn any conclusions. Indeed, I am being careful to avoid drawing any conclusions until I’ve conducted a methodical investigation.
My purpose in researching this story is to discover the truth of the matter. If I already knew the truth of the matter, I would not have flown eight hours to Maui to survey the scene and to speak with eyewitnesses. I would have simply typed my report in my apartment in Dallas.
Suspicious circumstances and actors warrant an investigation, but a full and methodical investigation must be performed before conclusions can be legitimately drawn. My ultimate objective is to write a report that could stand up to examination by a rigorous, critical adversary in court.
The initial focus on my investigation has been to establish some basic concepts of fire behavior, because devastating fires have been a feature of the human condition for as long as we have built towns. This is why we now have fire codes, fire marshals, and fire departments.
As one who has owned a restaurant, I know that the modern fire code for the restaurant business is very stringent. Historically, fires have often been ignited by curtains and other fabrics that have come into contact with flames.
Modern patio umbrellas and awning sunshades are designed to be situated near outdoor BBQs, fireplaces, and tiki torches. Most are therefore made out of flame-resistant material—i.e., naturally flame-resistant and/or treated with flame retardants.
This morning a reader sent me the following image posted by an author who declared it evidence that a laser Directed Energy Weapon had been used to ignite the Lahaina Fire.
Here’s another image of the umbrellas—a screenshot of a video taken a day or two after the fire.
These umbrellas are almost certainly made out of flame-resistant material. The author who declared that the intact umbrellas are “evidence that blue laser weapons were used to destroy Lahaina” elaborated this proposition as follows:
For example, the umbrellas outside Tommy Bahamas survived, although they were surrounded by destroyed cars because they were blue and absorbed the light from the blue laser.
The author seems to imply that a blue laser weapon was the only source of destructive energy that was applied to the structures and objects in Lahaina, even though it is clear that—regardless of what caused their ignition—everything that burned experienced rapid combustion that is characteristic of dry, combustible materials that have caught fire in a high wind.
Eye witnesses who fled into the harbor across Front Street from Tommy Bahama saw the building burn precisely as one would expect it to burn in a 40-60 mph wind.
That the blue umbrellas did not catch fire is not “evidence” that the inferno was caused by a blue laser. It is merely evidence that the umbrellas did not catch fire.
The most plausible explanation for this fact is that the umbrellas are made of flame-resistant material and are situated a few feet away from the wooden structure that did catch fire and burn.
Note also the intact tables and balustrade (probably made from flame-resistant composite) next to the umbrellas, as well as the (high moisture content) coconut palm trees. These further indicate that this area—next to the sidewalk and street—did not catch fire because it was largely devoid of fuel.
When conducting an investigation of a complex event with multiple variables, one should always bear in mind that the devil is in the details.
When examining photographic and video representations of a possible crime scene, it is also important to consider the possibility that images—or the scenes they purportedly document—can be manipulated and staged, with additional objects added after the incident in question took place. This is why crime scenes are cordoned off, physical evidence is subjected to rigorous chain of custody documentation, and forensic photography must adhere to exacting standards.
Thanks again for reading. and please keep the comments coming. I will read and consider all of them.
P.S.: After I posted the above reflections, several readers expressed incredulity that a fire hot enough to melt aluminum engine blocks in cars did NOT destroy the blue umbrellas in front of Tommy Bahama.
My first response to these comments is to state the following facts:
1). Some of the cars abandoned on Front Street were consumed by fire so hot that it melted their aluminum engine blocks.
2). The blue patio umbrellas in front of Tommy Bahama were NOT consumed by fire so hot that it destroyed their (almost certainly) flame-resistant material.
To understand why the cars were subjected to such hot fire, please consider the following:
1). Melted engine blocks were observed in cars parked on Front Street—downwind (on the west side) of large wooden building that were engulfed in fire stoked by a gale force wind out of the east. The fire caused the flames to blast onto the downwind cars like a gigantic blowtorch.
2). The Tommy Bahama umbrellas were NOT directly downwind of an adjacent burning building.
3). The burned cars contained gasoline tanks.
4). One gallon of gasoline is equivalent to 120,214 British thermal units of heat.
5). If, on average, the cars that burned contained around half a tank of gas, or about 8 gallons, this comes to 961,712 thermal units in the tank of each car.
The following video gives a sense of how much fire is generated when a car’s gas tank is ignited and then explodes. Even though this fire was quickly extinguished, it still tremendously damaged the car.
I am in contact with a witness who fled into the harbor across Front Street from Tommy Bahama. She saw multiple gas tanks explode and immolate the cars in which they were contained.