The Maui police announced on Friday that the death toll from the Lahaina fire has been revised to 97 — a drop from the 115 initially confirmed, according to KTLA sister station KHON.
At a press conference on Friday, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said the decreased death toll came after forensic tests recognized duplicates in a catalog of remains. Officials said this type of thing can occur when multiple agencies are taking part in recovery efforts.
“All these numbers are fluid but we’re giving the very best numbers at the time we have,” said Dr. Jeremy Stuelpnagel, a medical examiner working with Maui County.
Of the 97 lives that were claimed, 74 of those individuals have been identified, MPD confirmed.
Determining the death toll from the Aug. 8 wildfire in Lahaina has been especially complicated because of the damage caused by the fire and the chaos as people tried to escape, officials said. In some cases, animal remains were inadvertently collected along with human remains.
The Lahaina fire is the deadliest in the U.S. in more than a century. Caught in a hellscape, some residents died in their cars, while others jumped into the ocean or tried to run for safety. The blaze reduced much of the historic town to ash.
“When the fire broke out, people ran together, they huddled together,” said Stuelpnagel. “They’re holding each other in those moments. Some of them were even holding pets.” Because of this, some remains arrived commingled.
During Friday’s news conference, Pelletier said officials have an obligation to identify all of the deceased.
“We legitimately have a chance to identify every single person we lost and to reunite them with their family. And so, in the midst of all this tragedy, there’s a little ray of hope right there.”
In addition to a decrease in fatalities, MPD said the number of those unaccounted for dropped to 31. These missing individuals all have verified missing persons cases under investigation by police.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.