Maui wildfires: At least 6 dead as wildfires ravage parts of Hawaii island, official says

KAHULUI, Hawaii (AP) – A wildfire Ripped the heart Darkness engulfed the Hawaiian island of Maui Wednesday, burning much of a historic town and forcing residents to jump into the ocean to escape the flames. At least six people died and dozens were injured.

The fire continued to burn Wednesday afternoon. Driven by strong winds Hurricane Dora passed well south of the Hawaiian Islands. Officials fear that the death toll may increase.

As the wind speed decreased somewhat, some planes resumed their flights so that the pilots could see the full scope of the disaster. Aerial video from coastal Lahaina showed dozens of homes and businesses leveled to the ground, including on Front Street, where tourists 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, the other pilots and mechanics on the plane and myself.

Acting Governor Sylvia Luke said the flames had “destroyed communities” and urged travelers to stay away.

“It’s not a safe place,” he said.

People watch as smoke and flames fill the air from a wildfire burning on a front street in downtown Maui, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. Wildfires in the historic town have burned parts of one of Hawaii’s most popular tourist spots, Maui officials say. . Maui County spokeswoman Mahina Martin said in a phone interview early Wednesday that the fire spread across Lahaina, including Front Street, an area of ​​town popular with tourists. (Alan Dicker via AP)

The exact cause of the fire has not been determined, but a number of factors, including high winds, low humidity and dry vegetation, are likely, said Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, deputy director general of the Hawaii Department of State Conservation. Experts say climate change is increasing the likelihood of more extreme weather.

“Climate change in many parts of the world is increasing the desiccation of vegetation, largely due to warmer temperatures,” said Erica Fleishman, director of Oregon State University’s Oregon Climate Change Research Institute. “Even if you have the same amount of rain, the higher the temperature, the faster things will dry out.”

Burning through intersections of wooden buildings in downtown Lahaina from the 1700s and 1700s on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It was apocalyptic from what they explained,” said Thierry Lawrence, whose 14 cousins ​​and uncles fled the city and took refuge in their home in Bukalani, east of Lahaina.

Lahaina resident Kyumoku Kapu was tying up items loose in the wind at the cultural center he runs in Lahaina when his wife came by Tuesday afternoon to tell him they had to leave. “At that point, things got crazy and the wind started blowing,” Capu said, adding that they left “just in time.”

Two blocks away they saw fire and smoke. Kapu, his wife and a friend jumped into his pickup truck. “By the time we got back, our building was on fire,” he said. “It was so quick.”

Crews were battling three fires on Maui: Lahaina, south Maui’s Kihei area and the mountainous, so-called inland communities, Maui County spokeswoman Mahina Martin said.

Maui Mayor Richard Pisen Jr. said at least two homes were destroyed in a 1.7-square-mile (4.5-square-kilometer) fire Tuesday in the mountainous Kula area.

There were no reports of injuries or loss of homes in three wildfires burning on Hawaii’s Big Island, Mayor Mitch Roth said Wednesday. Firefighters extinguished some roof fires.

The National Weather Service said Hurricane DoraIt was moving 500 miles (805 kilometers) south of the island chain, partially responsible for 60 mph (97 km) winds that knocked out power, hit homes and grounded firefighting helicopters in Maui.

The Coast Guard on Tuesday rescued 14 people, including two children, who fled into the sea to escape the fire and smoke zone, according to a county statement.

Six people were killed in the fire on Maui, but search and rescue operations continued and the toll could rise, Bissen said.

Six patients were flown from Maui to Oahu Tuesday night, said Speedy Bailey, regional director of air-ambulance company Hawaii Life Flight. Three of them had severe burns and were taken to Straub Medical Center’s burn unit, he said. Others were taken to other Honolulu hospitals. At least 20 patients were taken to Maui Memorial Medical Center, he said.

A Maui firefighter was hospitalized in stable condition after suffering smoke inhalation, officials said Wednesday.

Luke issued an emergency announcement on behalf of Gov. Josh Green, who was traveling, and activated the Hawaii National Guard to assist.

“Parts of Maui, where we have shelters, are breached,” Luke said. “We have resources that are taxed.”

Smoke billows across the slopes of Haleakala Volcano in Maui, Hawaii, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, as a fire burns in the Upland region of Maui.  Many Hawaiian communities were forced to evacuate from the wildfires.  Dry weather, combined with strong winds, creates dangerous fire conditions.  (AP via Matthew Thayer/The Maui News)

Smoke billows across the slopes of Haleakala Volcano in Maui, Hawaii, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, as a fire burns in the highlands of Maui. Many Hawaiian communities were forced to evacuate from the wildfires. Dry weather, combined with strong winds, creates dangerous fire conditions. (AP via Matthew Thayer/The Maui News)

Members of the Hawaii Land and Natural Resources Wilderness Firefighting Team battle a fire in Kula, Maui, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023.  Several Hawaii communities were forced to evacuate as wildfires destroyed at least two homes as of Tuesday.  During the dry season, strong winds create dangerous fire conditions.  (AP via Matthew Thayer/The Maui News)

Members of the Hawaii Land and Natural Resources Wilderness Firefighting Team battle a fire in Kula, Maui, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. Several Hawaii communities were forced to evacuate as wildfires destroyed at least two homes as of Tuesday. During the dry season, strong winds create dangerous fire conditions. (AP via Matthew Thayer/The Maui News)

President Joe Biden said in a statement Wednesday evening that he had ordered “all available federal assets” to help Hawaii. The president said the Coast Guard and Navy were supporting the response and rescue efforts, and the Navy was providing Black Hawk helicopters to fight the fire.

No tally was available for the number of buildings burned or the number of evacuees, but officials said four shelters housing 2,100 people were open.

Kahului Airport, the main airport on Maui, is sheltering 2,000 travelers whose flights have been canceled or who recently arrived on the island, the county said. Officials in Honolulu were preparing the Hawaii Convention Center to take in 4,000 displaced tourists and locals.

“Local people have lost everything,” said James Tokyoga, director of the Department of Commerce, Economic Development and Tourism. “They lost their home, they lost their animals.”

Kapu, who owns the Na Aikane o Maui Cultural Center in Lahaina, said he and his wife didn’t have time to pack anything before they were forced to flee. “We had years of research material, artifacts,” he said.

Alan Dicker said he’s not sure what’s left of his gallery of vintage European posters, which has been on Lahaina’s Front Street for 23 years. Before leaving with three friends and two cats, Tigger recorded a video of the flames engulfing the main area of ​​shops and restaurants frequented by tourists.

“All the important things I owned were burnt today,” he said.

Lahaina is often thought of as a Maui tourist town, Lawrence said, but “we have a very strong Hawaiian community.”

“I am heartbroken. Our memories are everywhere,” she said. “Everybody’s houses. Everyone’s life has turned tragic in the last 12 hours,” he said.

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This story has been edited to correct that Pissen, not Lahaina, is the mayor of Maui County.

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Cinco Kelleher reports from Honolulu. Associated Press writer Beatrice Dubuis in New York contributed to this report.

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