LAHAINA (HawaiiNewsNow) – Six people have been confirmed killed in the raging wildfires that decimated entire Maui communities and all but leveled historic Lahaina town, and authorities fear that number could rise as emergency responders slowly move into fire-ravaged areas.
Meanwhile, authorities say Civil Air Patrol and Maui Fire Department flyovers conducted Wednesday show at least 271 structures were damaged or destroyed by the flames. Lahaina appears to be the hardest hit area and access to the area is still being blocked off.
At least three large fires on Maui — including the blaze in Lahaina — are still active and out of control, which means a full picture of the devastation hasn’t yet come into view.
But the early numbers underscore the scale of the disaster: In addition to the six people killed and hundreds of structures damaged, at least 20 more people have sustained serious injuries.
Meanwhile, thousands are displaced, with hundreds flocking to emergency shelters and many more sleeping in their cars, including at a Walmart that opened its bathrooms to evacuees.
And Maui County’s emergency response is near a breaking point as Hawaii National Guard and federal resources begin to move in. On Wednesday afternoon, President Biden offered his condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones and offered federal support.
“We are grateful to the brave firefighters and first responders who continue to run toward danger, putting themselves in harm’s way to save lives,” he said, in a statement from the White House.
Acting Gov. Sylvia Luke, who announced Tuesday night that the Hawaii National Guard had been activated, said it could take months to assess the full scope of the damage from the fires.
“This is the entire state coming together to assist our family on Maui,” she said, at a news conference Wednesday. “We never anticipated a hurricane that did not make impact would cause this type of wildfires. Wildfires that wiped out communities. Wildfires that wiped out businesses.”
Here’s the latest:
- Maui County says more than 100 firefighters at any one time are battling the active wildfires on the island, where winds from passing Hurricane Dora are still strong. One bit of good news: Firefighters weren’t able to use helicopters to douse the flames Tuesday because of the high winds, but the flames are being fought by air now.
- Maui Mayor Richard Bissen told reporters there are no additional details on the six people confirmed killed in the fires, but did say officials are trying to gather that information.
- More than 2,100 people were housed overnight at the county’s four emergency shelters and the American Red Cross of Hawaii is putting out an urgent call for volunteers
- Authorities confirmed at least 20 people suffered serious burns in the wildfires and several were airlifted to Oahu. Three are in critical condition at the Straub Medical Center.
- Gov. Josh Green said it’s almost certain the damage estimate from the blaze will be in the billions. He’s cut short personal travel to return to the islands.
- The state plans to fly 4,000 tourists out of Maui on Wednesday to Oahu, where they will be put up at the Hawaii Convention Center. Authorities said at least 2,000 people waited at Kahului’s airport overnight after getting off flights from the mainland.
- Tens of thousands of people across Maui are without power after high winds downed more than 30 poles and flames destroyed even more infrastructure. Cell service is also nonexistent in some places except for those with satellite phones.
- A growing list of flights into Maui from the mainland have been canceled. Travelers are being urged to check with their carrier before going to the airport.
- At least 14 people had to be rescued from waters off Lahaina on Tuesday night after jumping into the water to escape the raging wildfire, authorities confirmed. Among them: Two young children who were reunited with family.
Hundreds of homes and businesses have been reportedly destroyed.
The wildfires on Maui started burning early Tuesday, but continued throughout the day and spread with a frightening speed. Eyewitnesses described an apocalyptic scene Tuesday in Lahaina town, where residents were forced to jump into the harbor waters to avoid fast-moving flames from a massive brush fire that’s destroyed much of the historic area — and continues to burn.
Residents say an overwhelmed fire force — fighting flames all day amid powerful winds — could do little as flames ripped through the historic community, destroying dozens of homes and businesses in what onlookers believe is the worst natural disaster in Hawaii’s history since Hurricane Iniki.
Richard Olsten, a helicopter pilot who flew over Lahaina town on Wednesday morning, said much of the historic town appears gone. “It’s like an area was bombed. It’s like a war zone,” he said.
Luke confirmed Tuesday night that the Hawaii National Guard had been activated to help respond to the sprawling fire crisis. Authorities said in addition to personnel, aircraft were being deployed.
An emergency proclamation also remains in effect as Luke and others Hawaii leaders are encouraging those with Maui travel plans to postpone or cancel altogether. The state is planning to evacuate thousands of visitors from Maui to Oahu, while many more are leaving on early flights.
Honolulu Emergency Medical Services Director Dr. Jim Ireland confirmed to HNN that eight patients had been transferred from Maui to Oahu, including three who are in critical condition.
“It’s been very heartbreaking for all of us and frustrating because if we weren’t an island we would drive over and help them from Honolulu,” Ireland said.
Perhaps one of the most harrowing details of the ongoing disaster emerged Tuesday night as evacuees recounted stories of being forced to jump into Lahaina’s water to flee the flames.
Subsequent social media posts showed a terrifying wall of flames descending on famous Front Street in Lahaina and destroying everything in its path. One heart-stopping video posted by fleeing residents shows uncontrolled flames in all directions.
Lahaina resident Tiare Lawrence compared the scene to something out of the apocalypse, with people running for their lives.
“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,” she said.
“Everyone I know in Lahaina, their homes have burned down.”
Front Street business owner Alan Dickar says he watched business after business in the historic district going up in flames.
“Buildings on both sides were engulfed. There were no fire trucks at that point; I think the fire department was overwhelmed,” Dickar said. “That is the most important business street on Maui.”
In a news conference Wednesday, Bissen said it wasn’t yet clear how many homes and businesses had been destroyed in the flames — and stressed the focus was on beating back the fires.
The brush fire in Lahaina is one of at least seven sizable wildfires that firefighters were battling statewide Tuesday amid treacherous conditions — powerful winds, low humidity and dry brush
The winds — fueled by Hurricane Dora as it passes south of the state — topped 55 mph in many spots, with gusts to 70 to 80 mph. In addition to wildfires, first responders are grappling with downed trees and damaged structures. Also on Maui, thousands remain without power.
And while the Lahaina fire appears to have wrought the most devastation, widespread damage is also being reported in Kihei and Kula, where evacuation orders also remain in place.
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