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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke September 7, 2023

No, President Joe Biden didn’t say the Maui, Hawaii, wildfires were ‘planned’

If Your Time is short

  • President Joe Biden said Aug. 31 that the Federal Emergency Management Agency response coordinator was already in Hawaii when the fires started.

  • The FEMA official was there for a pre-scheduled meeting.

  • Authorities are still investigating the Hawaii wildfires’ causes, but significant attention has been focused on the role the island’s aging power infrastructure played, along with drought, high winds and invasive grass.  

President Joe Biden didn’t recently disclose that wildfires that ravaged Maui, Hawaii, were planned, although some social media posts claim otherwise. 

"Wait! Did Joe Biden just admit the truth about the Maui wildfires!" read the text in one Instagram post describing a video of remarks Biden gave Aug. 31 addressing the recovery efforts on the island. 

"Did Joe Biden just confirm the Lahaina fires were by design as a way to ‘Build Back Better?’" a Facebook post said.

"Wanna restore that part of the island like it was before, only better," Biden says at the start of the video clip in both posts. "To that end, when I was on the island last week, I appointed Bob Fenton, one of the nation’s leading emergency managers — and I mean that, that’s not hyperbole — who’s been on the ground in Hawaii since before the fires erupted as our chief federal response coordinator to lead our long-term recovery effort on Maui. I’ve charged him with making sure the community has everything — everything the federal government can offer to heal and build back better as fast as possible."

These posts were flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

Robert Fenton Jr. is the regional administrator for Region 9, which includes Hawaii, of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Biden appointed him Aug. 21 as the "chief federal response coordinator" for Maui to oversee "the long-term coordinated federal recovery as Hawaii rebuilds" from wildfires there, according to a statement ithe White House issued that same day.

The statement reiterates what Biden said in his Aug. 31 remarks: Fenton had been "on the ground in Hawaii from the day the wildfires started." 

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But that doesn’t mean the wildfires were planned. 

The Maui wildfires started Aug. 8. Jeremy Edwards, a spokesperson for FEMA, told PolitiFact Fenton was on Oahu for the Pacific Partnership Meeting. FEMA Region 9 hosts the annual event at which participants discuss disaster response, recovery, preparedness and more.

"Due to the fires in Maui, participants from FEMA, the Hawaii delegation and many other federal agencies left the meeting early to address statewide response efforts, Edwards said.  

Images dated Aug. 8 that were released Aug. 9 by the office of the American Samoa governor show Fenton at the meeting.

Authorities are still investigating what caused the wildfires. Fact-checkers have reviewed numerous claims that suggest they were planned, but found no credible evidence. More credible: the role high winds, drought, invasive plants and Hawaii’s aging power grid played. An investigation by The Associated Press found that bare, uninsulated power lines were common across Lahaina and, once fallen, could easily have sparked fire. 

We rate claims Biden confirmed the Lahaina wildfires were planned False.

UPDATE, Sept. 8, 2023: This story was updated to include comments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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No, President Joe Biden didn’t say the Maui, Hawaii, wildfires were ‘planned’

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