WAILUKU, Hawaii (AP) — Thousands of Hawaii residents have fled their homes on Maui. The fire spread across the islandIt destroyed parts of a centuries-old city and killed at least 36 people in the worst US wildfire in recent years.
caught fire Island by surprise, leaving burned-out cars on once-busy streets and smoldering ruins where historic buildings once stood in Lahaina Town, which dates back to the 1700s and has long been a favorite tourist destination. Crews battled fires in several parts of the island on Wednesday, and the flames forced some adults and children to escape into the sea.
At least 36 people have died, according to a statement from Maui County late Wednesday, with no other details available on the deaths. Officials said earlier that 271 structures were damaged or destroyed and dozens of people were injured.
Lahaina residents Kamuela Kavakova and Iulia Yasso described a harrowing escape Tuesday afternoon under smoky skies. The couple and their 6-year-old son returned to their apartment after rushing to the supermarket for water and only had time to grab a change of clothes and run as the bushes around them caught fire.
“We didn’t do it right,” Kawakoa said at an evacuation shelter Wednesday, still unsure if anything was left of their apartment.
A senior center across the street caught fire as the family fled. They called 911, but didn’t know if people got out. Fire alarms went off. As they drove, downed utility poles and runaway cars slowed their progress.
Kawagoe, 34, grew up in an apartment building called Lahaina Surf, where his father and grandmother lived.
“It was very difficult to watch my city burn to ashes and not be able to do anything,” Kawakoa said. “I was helpless.”
Tourists were advised to stay away, and about 11,000 visitors left Maui on Wednesday, with at least another 1,500 expected to leave Thursday, state transportation director Ed Sniffen said. Authorities prepared to take in thousands of evacuees at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu.
There were fires Blown by strong winds Dora moves farther south from the storm. It’s the latest in a string of extreme weather disasters around the world this summer. Experts say climate change is increasing the likelihood of such events.
Some flights resumed Wednesday as the winds on Maui eased somewhat, allowing pilots to see the full scope of the disaster. Aerial video from Lahaina showed dozens of homes and businesses demolished, including Front Street, where tourists once flocked to shop and dine. Smoldering piles of trash piled up near the waterfront, boats burned in the harbor, and gray smoke billowed over the leafless skeletons of charred trees.
“It’s horrible. I’ve been flying here for 52 years and I’ve never seen anything close to that,” said Richard Olston, a helicopter pilot with a tour company. “We had tears in our eyes.”
About 14,500 customers on Maui were without power early Wednesday morning. Cell service and telephone lines were cut in some areas, making it difficult for many to check in with friends and family members living near the wildfires. Some posted the news on social media.
Tiare Lawrence frantically tried to reach his siblings who live near where the gas station exploded in Lahaina.
“There’s no service, so we can’t get hold of anybody,” he said, from the Maui community of Bukalani.
Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara of the Hawaii Department of State Conservation told reporters Wednesday night that officials were working to restore communications, distribute water and add law enforcement personnel. He said National Guard helicopters dropped 150,000 gallons of water on the Maui fire.
The Coast Guard said 14 people, including two children, were rescued after jumping into the water to escape the flames and smoke.
Three of the injured were taken to Oahu with life-threatening burns, officials said.
Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. said at a news conference Wednesday morning that officials had not yet begun investigating the immediate cause of the fire, but officials pointed to a combination of drought, low humidity and high winds.
Mauro Farinelli of Lahaina said the wind started picking up Tuesday and then somehow the fire started to spread up a mountain pass.
“It tore everything apart at an amazing speed,” he said, “it was like a blowtorch.”
The winds were so strong they blew his garage door off its hinges and trapped his car in the garage, Farinelli said. So a friend took him to an evacuation shelter with his wife Judith and dog Susie. He doesn’t know what happened to their house.
“We’re hoping for the best, but we’re pretty sure it’s gone,” he said.
President Joe Biden ordered all available federal assets to assist in the response. He said the Hawaii National Guard has mobilized helicopters to help contain the fire and help with search and rescue efforts.
“Our prayers are with those who saw their homes, businesses and communities destroyed,” Biden said in a statement.
Former President Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii, said on social media that it was difficult to see certain images emerge from a place that is so special to many.
Wildfires also burned on Hawaii’s Big Island, though there were no reports of injuries or homes destroyed, Mayor Mitch Roth said.
Acting Gov. Sylvia Luke issued an emergency announcement on behalf of Gov. Josh Green, who was traveling, and urged tourists to stay away.
“It’s not a safe place,” he said.
Greene’s office said Wednesday evening that he had cut short his trip to return.
Fires in Hawaii are not like most Burning in the American West. They tend to break out in large grasslands on the drier sides of islands and are generally much smaller than terrestrial fires. A Great fire on the Big Island in 2021 burning homes and forcing thousands to evacuate.
2018 camp fire It killed at least 85 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 homes in California’s Sierra Nevada foothills.
Alan Dicker, who owns a poster gallery and three homes in Lahaina, said most tourists to Maui visit Front Street.
“The middle two blocks are the economic center of this island and I don’t know what else there is,” he said.
He took video of the flames engulfing the Main Strip before fleeing with three friends and two cats.
“All the important things I owned were burnt today,” he said. “I’ll be fine. I’m out safely.
Cinco Kelleher reported from Honolulu and Perry from Wellington, New Zealand. Associated Press writers Christopher Weber in Los Angeles and Beatrice Dubuis in New York contributed to this report.