Wildfires Burning in Hawaii, Fanned by Intense Winds, Force Evacuations

Disaster Alert
August 9, 2023

Source:  The Washington Post

Several large wildfires raging on two of Hawaii’s islands are expected to cause “some of loss of life,” the governor said Wednesday.

The blazes have destroyed much of the popular tourist town of Lahaina on the island of Maui, and hundreds of families have been displaced, Gov. Josh Green (D) said. The fires caused mass evacuations, widespread power outages and structural damage on the island.

Dry conditions and forceful winds connected to Hurricane Dora also ignited fires on the island of Hawaii, known as the Big Island. Officials warned residents of possible “imminent disaster due to property damage and/or bodily injury.”

Green, who is out of state on personal travel, addressed the crisis in a statement Wednesday. His office said he was returning to Hawaii “immediately.” On Tuesday, Sylvia Luke (D), who is serving as acting governor, declared an emergency relief period through at least Aug. 15 and activated the Hawaii National Guard to help with evacuation efforts and disaster response. The fires have destroyed hundreds of acres in regions including Kula, North Kohala and South Kohala.

“The wind-fueled fires have devastated many of our communities and people will be looking to our office for leadership while we address the ongoing emergency and do what we can as a state to rebuild lives,” Green said in a statement.

Active fires in last 48 hours (Aug. 8-9)

The state government plans to request a disaster declaration from the White House, which Green said had been supportive. FEMA is helping in the response effort.

Months of drought primed the islands for fire risks, with more than a third of Maui County under at least moderate drought as of Aug. 1, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Abnormally dry conditions developed rapidly there in June and have persisted, with slightly below-normal precipitation during what is a typically dry time of year.

Weather patterns have allowed fires to spread quickly. A strong high-pressure system north of the islands is keeping conditions dry and sunny, and tradewinds have intensified as Category 4 Dora passes hundreds of miles to the south. The difference between that high pressure zone and Dora’s low pressure has fueled damaging winds, the National Weather Service said.

The agency posted high-wind warnings of gusts up to 60 mph for portions of Maui on Tuesday. The warning was downgraded to an advisory on Wednesday morning as winds began to ease; only a few locations were reporting gusts over 50 mph, the Weather Service said.

Winds are expected to continue easing Wednesday and in the coming days as Dora moves westward away from Hawaii, the Weather Service said, but beneficial rain is not expected.

“Dry and stable conditions will persist today with near zero rainfall in the forecast for most locations,” Weather Service meteorologists wrote in a forecast discussion Wednesday morning.

Across the island, more than 14,000 customers lost power. People trying to drive to safety posted on Twitter, recently renamed X, that they were hampered by long traffic delays and road closures. The National Weather Service warned residents to expect “difficult travel.”

Videos shared to social media Wednesday showed flames engulfing the streets of Lahaina, which has about 13,000 residents. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued 12 people who had fled into the ocean to avoid smoke and flames. In West Maui, 911 service was unavailable.

Kahului Airport, Maui’s main airport, was sheltering 2,000 people from arrivals and canceled flights. Hawaii’s government discouraged nonessential air travel to the state.

Firefighters responding to the blazes faced strong winds, which officials said “made it impossible to provide aircraft support.” The winds prevented helicopters from dumping water onto the fires and gathering more information about the blazes, the Associated Press reported. A firefighter working in West Maui suffering from smoke inhalation and was taken to a hospital and was stable condition Tuesday, authorities said.

“It’s definitely one of the more challenging days for our island given that it’s multiple fires, multiple evacuations in the different district areas,” County of Maui spokeswoman Mahina Martin told the AP late Tuesday.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen issued an emergency proclamation and said the area had suffered structural damage, though the extent was unclear. Several schools in Maui closed amid the strong winds, with officials citing “unsafe campus conditions and damage” caused by the brush fires and weather. The state’s Education Department said Wednesday that Maui High school would be used as an evacuation shelter.

Jennifer Lucander, whose Facebook page says she is from Massachusetts and is on vacation in Hawaii, wrote on the social media platform that she was forced to evacuate Lahaina as debris “was flying everywhere.” It was “the scariest thing,” she said.

“We are supposed to fly out at noon tomorrow … fingers crossed!” she wrote alongside images of thick smoke plumes rising above palm trees. “Praying for everyone in West Maui.”

Wildfires typically burn about 0.5 percent of Hawaii’s land area each year, according to the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization. The proportion is on par with, if not greater than, what is burned in other U.S. states, the nonprofit said.

While fires were once largely tied to volcanic eruptions and rare dry lightning strikes, they have become more common over the past century as humans have introduced more nonnative fire-prone grasses and shrubs and more sources of ignition, the wildfire management group said. Nonnative grasslands and shrub lands cover nearly a quarter of Hawaii’s total land area, and they are becoming more flammable as climate change brings warmer, drier conditions.


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Alan Jaffa

Alan Jaffa is the chief executive officer for Safeguard, steering the company as the mortgage field services industry leader. He also serves on the board of advisors for SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Alan joined Safeguard in 1995, learning the business from the ground up. He was promoted to chief operating officer in 2002, and was named CEO in May 2010. His hands-on experience has given him unique insights as a leader to innovate, improve and strengthen Safeguard’s processes to assure that the company adheres to the highest standards of quality and customer service.

Under Alan’s leadership, Safeguard has grown significantly with strategies that have included new and expanded services, technology investments that deliver higher quality and greater efficiency to clients, and strategic acquisitions. He takes a team approach to process improvement, involving staff at all levels of the organization to address issues, brainstorm solutions, and identify new and better ways to serve clients.

In 2008, Alan was recognized by Crain’s Cleveland Business in its annual “40-Under-40” profile of young leaders. He also was named a NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® finalist in 2013.


Chief Operating Officer

Michael Greenbaum

Michael Greenbaum is the chief operating officer for Safeguard. Mike has been instrumental in aligning operations to become more efficient, effective, and compliant with our ever-changing industry requirements. Mike has a proven track record of excellence, partnership and collaboration at Safeguard. Under Mike’s leadership, all operational departments of Safeguard have reviewed, updated and enhanced their business processes to maximize efficiency and improve quality control.

Mike joined Safeguard in July 2010 as vice president of REO and has continued to take on additional duties and responsibilities within the organization, including the role of vice president of operations in 2013 and then COO in 2015.

Mike built his business career in supply-chain management, operations, finance and marketing. He has held senior management and executive positions with Erico, a manufacturing company in Solon, Ohio; Accel, Inc., a packaging company in Lewis Center, Ohio; and McMaster-Carr, an industrial supply company in Aurora, Ohio.

Before entering the business world, Mike served in the U.S. Army, Ordinance Branch, and specialized in supply chain management. He is a distinguished graduate of West Point (U.S. Military Academy), where he majored in quantitative economics.



Sean Reddington

Sean Reddington is the new Chief Information Officer for Safeguard Properties LLC. Sean has over 15+ years of experience in Information Services Management with a strong focus on Product and Application Management. Sean is responsible for Safeguard’s technological direction, including planning, implementation and maintaining all operational systems

Sean has a proven record of accomplishment for increasing operational efficiencies, improving customer service levels, and implementing and maintaining IT initiatives to support successful business processes.  He has provided the vision and dedicated leadership for key technologies for Fortune 100 companies, and nationally recognized consulting firms including enterprise system architecture, security, desktop and database management systems. Sean possesses strong functional and system knowledge of information security, systems and software, contracts management, budgeting, human resources and legal and related regulatory compliance.

Sean joined Safeguard Properties LLC from RenPSG Inc. which is a nationally leading Philintropic Software Platform in the Fintech space. He oversaw the organization’s technological direction including planning, implementing and maintaining the best practices that align with all corporate functions. He also provided day-to-day technology operations, enterprise security, information risk and vulnerability management, audit and compliance, security awareness and training.

Prior to RenPSG, Sean worked for DMI Consulting as a Client Success Director where he guided the delivery in a multibillion-dollar Fortune 500 enterprise client account. He was responsible for all project deliveries in terms of quality, budget and timeliness and led the team to coordinate development and definition of project scope and limitations. Sean also worked for KPMG Consulting in their Microsoft Practice and Technicolor’s Ebusiness Division where he had responsibility for application development, maintenance, and support.

Sean is a graduate of Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts and received his Masters in International Business from Central Michigan University. He was also a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force prior to his career in the business world.


General Counsel and Executive Vice President

Linda Erkkila, Esq.

Linda Erkkila is the general counsel and executive vice president for Safeguard and oversees the legal, human resources, training, and compliance departments. Linda’s responsibilities cover regulatory issues that impact Safeguard’s operations, risk mitigation, enterprise strategic planning, human resources and training initiatives, compliance, litigation and claims management, and mergers, acquisition and joint ventures.

Linda assures that Safeguard’s strategic initiatives align with its resources, leverage opportunities across the company, and contemplate compliance mandates. Her practice spans over 20 years, and Linda’s experience covers regulatory disclosure, corporate governance compliance, risk assessment, executive compensation, litigation management, and merger and acquisition activity. Her experience at a former Fortune 500 financial institution during the subprime crisis helped develop Linda’s pro-active approach to change management during periods of heightened regulatory scrutiny.

Linda previously served as vice president and attorney for National City Corporation, as securities and corporate governance counsel for Agilysys Inc., and as an associate at Thompson Hine LLP. She earned her JD at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Linda holds a degree in economics from Miami University and an MBA. In 2017, Linda was named as both a “Woman of Influence” by HousingWire and as a “Leading Lady” by MReport.


Chief Financial Officer

Joe Iafigliola

Joe Iafigliola is the Chief Financial Officer for Safeguard. Joe is responsible for the Control, Quality Assurance, Business Development, Accounting & Information Security departments, and is a Managing Director of SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Joe has been in a wide variety of roles in finance, supply chain management, information systems development, and sales and marketing. His career includes senior positions with McMaster-Carr Supply Company, Newell/Rubbermaid, and Procter and Gamble.

Joe has an MBA from The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and holds a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University’s Honors Accounting program.


AVP, High Risk and Investor Compliance

Steve Meyer

Steve Meyer is the assistant vice president of high risk and investor compliance for Safeguard. In this role, Steve is responsible for managing our clients’ conveyance processes, Safeguard’s investor compliance team and developing our working relationships with cities and municipalities around the country. He also works directly with our clients in our many outreach efforts and he represents Safeguard at a number of industry conferences each year.

Steve joined Safeguard in 1998 as manager over the hazard claims team. He was instrumental in the development and creation of policies, procedures and operating protocol. Under Steve’s leadership, the department became one of the largest within Safeguard. In 2002, he assumed responsibility for the newly-formed high risk department, once again building its success. Steve was promoted to director over these two areas in 2007, and he was promoted to assistant vice president in 2012.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve spent 10 years within the insurance industry, holding a number of positions including multi-line property adjuster, branch claims supervisor, and multi-line and subrogation/litigation supervisor. Steve is a graduate of Grove City College.


AVP, Operations

Jennifer Jozity

Jennifer Jozity is the assistant vice president of operations, overseeing inspections, REO and property preservation for Safeguard. Jen ensures quality work is performed in the field and internally, to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations. Jen has demonstrated the ability to deliver consistent results in order audit and order management.  She will build upon these strengths in order to deliver this level of excellence in both REO and property preservation operations.

Jen joined Safeguard in 1997 and was promoted to director of inspections operations in 2009 and assistant vice president of inspections operations in 2012.

She graduated from Cleveland State University with a degree in business.


AVP, Finance

Jennifer Anspach

Jennifer Anspach is the assistant vice president of finance for Safeguard. She is responsible for the company’s national workforce of approximately 1,000 employees. She manages recruitment strategies, employee relations, training, personnel policies, retention, payroll and benefits programs. Additionally, Jennifer has oversight of the accounts receivable and loss functions formerly within the accounting department.

Jennifer joined the company in April 2009 as a manager of accounting and finance and a year later was promoted to director. She was named AVP of human capital in 2014. Prior to joining Safeguard, she held several management positions at OfficeMax and InkStop in both operations and finance.

Jennifer is a graduate of Youngstown State University. She was named a Crain’s Cleveland Business Archer Award finalist for HR Executive of the Year in 2017.


AVP, Application Architecture

Rick Moran

Rick Moran is the assistant vice president of application architecture for Safeguard. Rick is responsible for evolving the Safeguard IT systems. He leads the design of Safeguard’s enterprise application architecture. This includes Safeguard’s real-time integration with other systems, vendors and clients; the future upgrade roadmap for systems; and standards designed to meet availability, security, performance and goals.

Rick has been with Safeguard since 2011. During that time, he has led the system upgrades necessary to support Safeguard’s growth. In addition, Rick’s team has designed and implemented several innovative systems.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Rick was director of enterprise architecture at Revol Wireless, a privately held CDMA Wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana, and operated his own consulting firm providing services to the manufacturing, telecommunications, and energy sectors.


AVP, Technology Infrastructure and Cloud Services

Steve Machovina

Steve Machovina is the assistant vice president of technology infrastructure and cloud services for Safeguard. He is responsible for the overall management and design of Safeguard’s hybrid cloud infrastructure. He manages all technology engineering staff who support data centers, telecommunications, network, servers, storage, service monitoring, and disaster recovery.

Steve joined Safeguard in November 2013 as director of information technology operations.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was vice president of information technology at Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana. He also held management positions with Northcoast PCS and Corecomm Communications, and spent nine years as a Coast Guard officer and pilot.

Steve holds a BBA in management information systems from Kent State University in Ohio and an MBA from Wayne State University in Michigan.


Assistant Vice president of Application Development

Steve Goberish

Steve Goberish, is the assistant vice president of application development for Safeguard. He is responsible for the maintenance and evolution of Safeguard’s vendor systems ensuring high-availability, security and scalability while advancing the vendor products’ capabilities and enhancing the vendor experience.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was a senior technical architect and development manager at First American Title Insurance, a publicly held title insurance provider based in southern California, in addition to managing and developing applications in multiple sectors from insurance to VOIP.

Steve has a bachelor’s degree from Kent State University in Ohio.