‘Devastating’ Maui wildfires rage in Hawaii, forcing some to flee into ocean

The recent wildfires in Hawaii have been exacerbated by strong winds from a passing hurricane, leading to hundreds of evacuations, widespread power outages, home destruction, and even residents seeking refuge in the ocean to escape the flames.

According to information from the County of Maui spokesperson Mahina Martin, the wildfires have impacted three main areas on the island: Lahaina, a region known for its residential and tourist activities, including a commercial district in West Maui; Kula, a residential area located in the inland and mountainous Upcountry region; and Kihei, a South Maui locality that comprises a mix of residential homes, condominiums, short-term vacation rentals, and visitor facilities.

Maui county officials have reported that numerous structures have been consumed by the fires, prompting multiple evacuation orders. Emergency response teams are engaged in battling both brush fires and structural fires. However, the exact scale of the evacuations, the size of the fires, and the extent of the structural damage remain uncertain at this time.

“We anticipate gaining a lot more information at daybreak,” she remarked. “This incident is unlike anything we’ve experienced before, affecting extensive portions of our island, and our response efforts have engaged all available resources.”

In reaction to the fire outbreak, Acting Governor Sylvia Luke and Maui Mayor Richard Bissen have issued official emergency proclamations. To aid in managing the situation, the Hawaii National Guard has been mobilized and is collaborating with the Maui Police Department to oversee traffic control points, as outlined by the Hawaii Adjutant General.

The National Weather Service has reported that Hurricane Dora, positioned approximately 500 miles to the south of the Hawaiian islands, along with a robust high-pressure system located north of the state, has resulted in powerful and destructive winds persisting throughout the overnight period.

The weather service cautioned that the combination of these forceful winds and low levels of humidity is generating hazardous conditions for wildfires. These dangerous fire weather conditions are expected to endure until Wednesday afternoon.

Nearly 2,000 people stuck at Maui airport

Mahina Martin mentioned that over 2,000 visitors have been impacted at Kahului Airport in Maui, either due to flight cancellations or a lack of alternative accommodations. The Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) has disclosed that approximately 1,800 individuals sought shelter at the airport overnight, as several highways on the western part of the island remained closed.

Officials from HDOT collaborated with airlines and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to provide a safe haven for passengers, given the ongoing wildfires in Lahaina and the upcountry areas. The HDOT officials conveyed this information on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Around 100 firefighters have been actively engaged in firefighting efforts, with 11 of them being drawn from state airport rescue personnel, according to statements from county authorities.

Thousands without power, 911 service no longer available in West Maui

More than 14,000 customers within Maui County were reported to be experiencing power outages, as indicated by Poweroutage.us. County officials have advised residents to maintain a distance of at least 30 feet from any downed power lines. At one point, this situation resulted in travel restrictions along segments of Honoapiilani Highway. While a portion of the highway was reopened on Tuesday evening, facilitating access in and out of Lahaina, motorists were cautioned to anticipate slow-moving traffic along the bypass.

In the vicinity of West Maui, the availability of 911 services has been compromised. Mahina Martin conveyed that managing evacuation directives in Lahaina has proven “very challenging” due to the absence of cell service in the area, with only landlines functioning.

Meanwhile, on the island of Oahu, which is home to Honolulu, there were also incidents of power outages, downed power lines, and traffic disruptions. This information was shared by Adam Weintraub, the Communication Director for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

Iconic Lahaina Front Street burns, homes destroyed, residents evacuated

Responding to the dire situation, the Coast Guard has been actively assisting residents who have sought refuge in the ocean to escape the adverse effects of smoke and fire conditions, as reported by county officials. In one instance, a Coast Guard boat successfully rescued 12 individuals from the waters off Lahaina, as shared on X, previously known as Twitter.

A resident of Lahaina, Tiare Lawrence, described the scene as resembling something out of an apocalyptic scenario, with people urgently fleeing for their safety. She expressed her concern over the devastation, mentioning that the homes of all the people she knows in Lahaina had been impacted.

Tiare Lawrence said, “It’s just so hard. I’m currently Upcountry and just knowing I can’t get a hold of any of my family members. I still don’t know where my little brother is. I don’t know where my stepdad is.”

According to Alan Dickar, a business owner on Front Street, buildings on both sides of the street were engulfed in flames. He noted that it seemed the fire department was overwhelmed by the situation. Dickar expressed the sentiment that Maui was struggling to manage the crisis, stressing the severe impact on the community. “A lot of people just lost their jobs because a lot of businesses burned. A lot of people lost their homes… This is going to be devastating for Maui,” he commented.

In the Kula area, about 1,100 acres were consumed by a fire that resulted in the destruction of at least two homes, according to information provided by Mayor Richard Bissen to the Associated Press. Roughly 80 people from 40 homes were evacuated from the area.

To provide support and assistance, the Red Cross has established multiple emergency shelters for affected residents. Mahina Martin disclosed that a single evacuation center already housed over 1,200 people.

Leave a comment