Unprecedented Loss: Hawaii Wildfires Claim 6 Lives, Wipe Out Homes in Maui

Hawaii Wildfires
6 Lives Lost and Homes Destroyed in Hawaii Wildfires| Image credit: The New York Times

Kahului, Hawaii – On Wednesday, a dangerous and fast-spreading wildfires erupted in the heart of Maui, causing dozens of homes and businesses to be destroyed in the historic town of Lahaina. At least six people lost their lives, and at least two dozen others were injured, leaving terrified residents with no choice but to flee into the sea to escape the flames.

According to Mahina Martin, a spokesperson for Maui County, on Wednesday morning, Front Street, a popular shopping and dining area in Lahaina town, was engulfed by the fire, spreading extensively.

Images posted overnight by the county depicted flames raging on street corners and leaping onto buildings in the town’s center, which dates back to the 1700s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Videos from the airport after sunrise revealed entire blocks of buildings turned to rubble and thick smoke billowing into the air.

Wildfires in Maui near the Lahaina Bypass| Credit: Google image

In anticipation of worsening conditions, Maui County ordered a mandatory evacuation for all residents and visitors in the largest community of West Maui and surrounding areas, with the exception of emergency personnel. Over 2,100 individuals sought refuge in evacuation centers overnight.

Firefighters battled numerous blazes in two focal areas on the island: the tourism hub of West Maui and an inland, mountainous region. The 911 service was down in West Maui, and residents were instructed to contact the police department directly.

According to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Dora caused power outages and structural damage with winds surpassing 60 miles per hour as it passed safely 500 miles to the south of the island chain. Firefighting helicopters were grounded. On Wednesday, once the winds had died down a bit, flights were resumed.

Wildfire smoke and flames cover the sky.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. confirmed during a press conference on Wednesday morning that the fire claimed the lives of six people on the island. He indicated that further details about the fatalities were awaited.

Emergency personnel airlifted six patients, including two children, to safety on Tuesday after they sought refuge in the ocean to escape the blaze and smoke. According to Bissen, more rescues occurred, though the exact number remained uncertain.

Speedy Belly, Regional Director for Hawaii Life Flight, reported that six patients were moved from Maui to Oahu Island on Tuesday night. Three of them had significant burns and were sent to the burn unit at Straub Medical Centre, while the others were taken to various Honolulu hospitals. There were no fatalities that he was aware of.

Officials had earlier reported that a firefighter on Maui was admitted to the hospital in stable condition after inhaling smoke. Emergency measures were taken to ensure their well-being.

Acting Governor Sylvia Luke issued a state of emergency declaration on behalf of the government. Josh Green, traveling and assisting, activated the Hawaii National Guard.

According to Martin, there was no information available about any fatalities. The extent of damage to structures and the number of individuals evacuated were not counted, but she mentioned that at least four shelters were open, with the largest accommodating over 1,000 people.

In Kahului, Hawaii, a huge portion of the historic town of Lahaina is being destroyed by flames fueled by strong winds. Smoke is billowing nearby. Image Credit: Google/CNBC

“This is unprecedented,” said Martin, reflecting on the impacted districts. Nighttime emergencies are particularly concerning, as assessing the extent of damages becomes difficult due to darkness.

Over 2,000 travelers who had planes canceled or who had just arrived on the island found shelter at Kahului Airport, the largest airport on Maui. The Hawaii Convention Centre in Honolulu was being prepared to host thousands of evacuated visitors and residents.

Alan Dickar expressed disbelief about what remained of his Vintage European Poster Gallery, which had stood on Front Street in Lahaina for 23 years. He recorded a video of flames licking at the main strip’s storefronts and restaurants, moments before being evacuated with his three cats and friends.

“It’s all gone today, everything of significance to me burned to ashes,” Dickar said. “I will be okay. I made it out safely. But it’s a lot.”

Dickar, who confirmed the loss of his three homes, emphasized the need for a heroic effort to rebuild what was lost in Lahaina, a community of approximately 13,000 people.

“Every single person that comes to Maui goes to Front Street,” he said. “The center is the economic center of this island, and I don’t know what’s left.”

The fire wasn’t confined to Maui alone.

Mayor Mitch Roth mentioned on Wednesday that there were no reports of injuries or homes lost due to three separate brush fires on Big Island. Firefighters managed to contain some of the flames on a roof. “We’ve got it pretty well under control on one,” he said. Another was 60% contained, while a third raged on near Mauna Kea Resorts.

Martin pointed out that due to the island’s shifting winds, helicopters were unable to drop water on the fire or accurately estimate its size due to smoky conditions. Firefighters faced blocked roads due to fallen trees and power lines.

Tired Lawrence desperately tried to reach her siblings on Wednesday morning, but there was no cell service. Her home in Maui’s Pukalani community, east of Lahaina, served as a sanctuary for 14 evacuated cousins, siblings, and uncles. “What they told me sounded like the apocalypse,” she said. “Heat. Smoke and fire everywhere. They had to get my elderly uncle out of the house.”

Bissen reported that around 30 power poles were down, resulting in homes, hotels, and shelters losing electricity.

“Maui’s Mayor Richard Bissen reported that at least two homes were burned by the raging fire in the Kula district of Maui, which covers an area of around 1.7 square miles (4.5 square kilometers). He added that about 40 homes and about 80 people were evacuated.

Mayor Mitch Roth of Big Island informed Hawaii News Now that there were also some fires on the island on Wednesday, but no homes suffered “minimal damage.”

Fires in Hawaii differ from those in mainland America. They often ignite in large grass fields along the dry shores of the islands and are usually much smaller in comparison to mainland wildfires.

In Hawaiian and other tropical islands before the arrival of humans, fires were uncommon, and native ecosystems adapted without them. This means that when fires occur, they can cause significant environmental damage. For instance, fires can destroy vegetation. Heavy rainfall after a fire can wash loose soil into the ocean, where it can harm coral reefs.

In 2021, a devastating fire on Big Island burned down homes and forced thousands of people to evacuate.

Adam Weintraub, the Communications Director of Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency, stated that Oahu Island, where Honolulu is located, was grappling with power outages, fallen power lines, and traffic issues.

Lawrence expressed that Lahaina is often viewed as just a tourist city on Maui, but “we have a strong Hawaiian community.”

He said, “My heart is broken. Memories are everywhere. Everyone’s homes. In the last 12 hours, everyone’s lives have dramatically changed in a sad way.”


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