KAHULUI, Hawaii (AP) — A wildfire ripped through the heart of Maui on Wednesday. With dangerous speed and fury, It destroyed dozens of homes and businesses in a historic tourist town, killed at least six people and injured at least two dozen others, and forced panicked residents to jump into the sea to escape the flames.
The fire was widespread in Lahaina Town, including the popular shopping and dining area Front Street, Maui County spokeswoman Mahina Martin said by phone early Wednesday.
Photos released by the county overnight showed flames burning across an intersection and leaping above buildings in the downtown area, which dates to the 1700s and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Aerial video taken just after sunrise showed entire blocks of buildings reduced to ash and thick smoke in the air.
“DO NOT GO TO Lahaina Town,” the county tweeted, adding that all roads in and out of West Maui’s largest community would be closed to all but emergency personnel. More than 2,100 people spent the night in evacuation centers.
Crews on Maui battled several blazes concentrated in two areas: touristy West Maui and an inland, mountainous area. In West Maui, 911 service was suspended and residents were advised to call the police department directly.
The National Weather Service said Hurricane DoraIt was about 500 miles (805 kilometers) south of the island chain, partly responsible for 60 mph (97 kph) winds that knocked out power, grounded homes and grounded firefighting helicopters. The plane resumed flying on Wednesday as the strong winds subsided.
The Coast Guard on Tuesday rescued 14 people, including two children, who waded into the sea to escape the fire and smoke zone, a district press release said.
Maui Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. said six people were killed in a wildfire on the island of Maui. He said during a press conference on Wednesday morning. He said that he was aware of the news and did not know how and where the deaths occurred on the island.
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. He never heard of any death.
A Maui firefighter was hospitalized in stable condition after suffering smoke inhalation, officials said Wednesday.
Acting Governor Sylvia Luke issued an emergency declaration on behalf of outgoing Governor Josh Green, and activated the Hawaii National Guard to assist.
Officials are not aware of any deaths, Martin said. No estimate was available for the number of buildings burned or the number of evacuees, but Martin said four shelters were open and more than 1,000 people were at large.
“It’s pretty unprecedented,” Martin said, noting that several counties were affected. An emergency at night is terrifying, he said, and the darkness makes it difficult to gauge the extent of the damage.
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 are preparing the Hawaii Convention Center to accommodate thousands of displaced tourists and locals.
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. “I’ll be fine. I’m out safely.
Dikar, who considered three of his own homes destroyed, said Lahaina, home to about 13,000 people, must make a heroic effort to rebuild what burned.
“Everybody that comes to Maui, the only place that everybody goes to,” he said. “The middle two blocks are the economic center of this island, and I don’t know what else there is.”
Maui wasn’t the only one on fire.
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. A fire is “pretty much under control,” he said. Another is 60% contained, and another has continued eruptions near Mauna Kea Resorts.
Due to wind speeds on Maui, helicopters were unable to drop water on the fire or get aerial estimates of the fire’s extent, and firefighters faced roads blocked by downed trees and power lines while fighting the inland fire, Martin said.
About 14,500 customers on Maui were without power early Wednesday morning, according to Poweroutage.us.
“It’s definitely one of the more challenging days for our island because it’s multiple fires, multiple evacuations in different county areas,” Martin said.
Tiare Lawrence frantically tried to reach his siblings Wednesday morning, but there was no phone service. His home in the Maui community of Bukalani, east of Lahaina, sheltered 14 cousins and uncles who fled Lahaina. “It’s been apocalyptic since they explained it,” Lawrence said. “Heat. Smoke and flames everywhere. They had to get my old uncle out of the house.
Bissen said 30 downed power poles left homes, hotels and shelters without power.
In Maui’s Kula area, at least two homes were destroyed in the blaze that burned about 1.7 square miles (4.5 square kilometers), Maui Mayor Richard Pisen said. About 80 people were evacuated from 40 houses, he said.
Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth told Hawaii News Now that some fires were still burning on the island Wednesday, but there was “minimal damage” to no homes.
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.
Fires were rare in Hawaii And on other tropical islands before humans arrived, native ecosystems developed without them. This means that when a fire breaks out, there will be huge environmental damage. For example, fire removes vegetation. When fires are followed by heavy rains, the rain can carry loose soil into the ocean, where it can smother coral reefs.
A Great fire on the Big Island in 2021 burning homes and forcing thousands to evacuate.
The island of Oahu, where Honolulu is located, has been dealing with power outages, downed power lines and traffic issues, said Adam Weintraub, director of communications for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.
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.
This story has been updated to correct that the mayor of Maui County, not Lahaina Town, is Bissen.
Cinco Kelleher reports from Honolulu. Associated Press writer Beatrice Dubuis in New York contributed to this report.