Fact Check: Biden Did NOT Appoint FEMA Director Before Maui Fires, Did NOT Confirm He Knew They Would Occur

Fact Check

  • by: Alexis Tereszcuk
Fact Check: Biden Did NOT Appoint FEMA Director Before Maui Fires, Did NOT Confirm He Knew They Would Occur No Time Issue

Did the timing of President Joe Biden appointing a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director before the Maui fires and subsequently saying that director was already in Hawaii when the fires broke out confirm Biden knew the wildfires would occur? No, that's not true: Biden appointed Robert J. Fenton Jr., a regional administrator for FEMA, as chief federal response coordinator for the Maui wildfires on August 21, 2023, weeks after the fires began on August 8, 2023. FEMA confirmed to Lead Stories that Fenton had been attending the Pacific Partnership Meeting on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, when the Maui wildfires broke out, which is why Biden said during a news briefing that Fenton was already in Hawaii.

The claim appeared in a video (archived here) on Instagram on September 3, 2023. The caption on the video read:

Did Joe Biden Just Confirm he Knew the Maui Fires Would Occur? This is Why we DO NOT Trust Him!

This is what the post looked like on Instagram at the time of writing:

Screenshot 2023-09-04 at 23.00.02.png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Thurs Sep 7 16:41:15 2023 UTC)

The video opens with Biden speaking about the federal government response to the August 8, 2023, wildfires in Maui:

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 has been on the ground in Hawaii since before the fires erupted -- as our Chief Federal Response Coordinator to lead our long-term recovery on Maui.

A man in the video posted on Instagram says:

Wait, what? He appointed an emergency management guy before the fires erupted on Maui? What is Joe Biden? Nostradamus or something? Or is something nefarious at play here? Listen to this whole sound bite, it's bizarre. Why would you appoint an emergency manager before the fires erupted? How did you know there were gonna be fires?

Biden made the remarks on August 31, 2023, from the White House. The official transcript (archived here) of his remarks is the same as the sound bite from the Instagram video:

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 has been on the ground in Hawaii since before the fires erupted -- as our Chief Federal Response Coordinator to lead our long-term recovery on Maui.

Fenton joined FEMA in 2006 and is the regional administrator for FEMA Region 9. He was in Honolulu on the island of Oahu for the Pacific Partnership Meeting, an annual gathering hosted by FEMA Region 9 to discuss disaster response, recovery, mitigation and other related efforts with state, local and territory officials, according to FEMA and an agenda from the conference provided to Lead Stories via email on September 7, 2023. The agenda (screenshot below) stated Fenton was scheduled to give the opening remarks at the meeting at the 'Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, on August 8, 2023.

Screenshot 2023-09-07 at 5.01.57 PM.png

(Source: FEMA document screenshot taken on Thurs Sep 7 21:18:45 2023 UTC)

A FEMA spokesperson told Lead Stories the schedule changed when the fires broke out:

Unfortunately, the fires on Maui and the Big Island required participants from FEMA, the Hawaii delegation and many other federal agencies to leave the meeting early to address statewide response efforts. FEMA integrated immediately with state and local officials at their operations centers in Oahu and Maui.

Fenton was appointed as chief federal response coordinator for Maui on August 21, 2023, 13 days after the wildfires began, according to the White House statement dated August 23, 2023 (archived here):

As the recovery moves into the next phase, President Biden on Monday appointed FEMA Region 9 Administrator Bob Fenton as the Chief Federal Response Coordinator for Maui. In this role, Fenton will oversee the Federal government's long-term recovery work on the ground.

Other Lead Stories fact checks about the Maui fires can be found here.

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  Alexis Tereszcuk

Alexis Tereszcuk is a writer and fact checker at Lead Stories and an award-winning journalist who spent over a decade breaking hard news and celebrity scoop with RadarOnline and Us Weekly.

As the Entertainment Editor, she investigated Hollywood stories and conducted interviews with A-list celebrities and reality stars.  

Alexis’ crime reporting earned her spots as a contributor on the Nancy Grace show, CNN, Fox News and Entertainment Tonight, among others.

Read more about or contact Alexis Tereszcuk

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