The wildfires that devastated western Maui have become the deadliest the U.S. has seen in more than 100 years, destroying one of Hawaii’s historic towns and causing a catastrophe that the state’s leaders and first responders are still trying to comprehend.
Death toll from Maui wildfires drops to 97
10 p.m., Sept. 15, 2023
New reports reveal that the number of people who died from the tragic Hawaii wildfires was 97, dropping from previous reports of 115.
The medical examiner for Maui County said during a news conference that the process to identify and confirm victims from the fires has proved challenging and complicated, The New York Times reported.
“It’s good news to have a lower number, that’s for darn sure,” Dr. Jeremy Stuelpnagel said Friday, per the Times.
What made the number of deaths drop?
Advances in genetic testing allowed anthropologists for the Department of Defense to more accurately identify and account for the number of people who died, based on the remains, according to CNN.
“They were able to make sure we weren’t tragically co-mingling any of the people we lost. For instance, in a car where there might have been several people — at first it might have been thought there were eight people, instead there were five,” Hawaii Gov. Josh Green told CNN.
Maui officials release names of 388 people still missing after fires
Noon, Aug. 25, 2023
Officials are urging any survivors who are listed as missing to come forward after releasing the names of the 388 people who are still unaccounted for more than two weeks after the fire broke out. They also asked residents who know of someone on the list who survived the fires to reach out.
What we know now: The official death toll is still 115, which has been the number publicly known since Monday.
- On releasing the names to the public, “We know it will help with the investigation,” Maui police chief John Pellettier said, per BBC.
- He also acknowledged concerns about causing retraumatization to families by releasing the names. “We also know that once those names come out, it can and will cause pain for folks whose loved ones are listed,” he said in a statement, per The New York Times.
- Search crews are still looking through what remains of the historic town of Lahaina, while investigations into what caused the fire, including the factors that snowballed the firestorm, are under ongoing investigation.
- Authorities have also publicly identified and named 46 of the people who died in the fires, BBC reported.
Why the numbers of missing keeps changing: Two factors complicate efforts to make a complete, accurate list of those still unaccounted for.
Those two reasons include:
- FBI Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill told NPR it involved “lack of detail in some reports.”
- And it is also caused by “a wide variety of lists of unaccounted-for people, ranging from government agencies to logs kept by shelters.”
Because of those factors, some names were listed twice and some names on the list actually survived the disaster.
Authorities still urge family members who still having missing relatives to donate a DNA sample to help identify recovered remains.
Relatives can call the FBI at 808-566-4300 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about donating a sample, NPR reported.
Maui County sues utility company over Lahaina fire, claims negligence led to fire starting
4 p.m., August 24, 2023
In a new lawsuit, Maui County alleges that Hawaiian Electric Company was negligent in leaving the power on in Lahaina amid hurricane force winds and dry conditions.
According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit claims, “Defendants also knew that if their overhead electrical equipment ignited a fire, it would spread at a critically rapid rate.”
It also said the utility company had the responsibility “to properly maintain and repair the electric transmission lines, and other equipment including utility poles associated with their transmission of electricity, and to keep vegetation properly trimmed and maintained so as to prevent contact with overhead power lines and other electric equipment.”
The lawsuit alleges that the negligence led to all three fires on Maui. Hawaii Electric serves 95% of Hawaii, per the Honolulu Star Advertiser.
1,100 still missing in Hawaii. First tourist death reported
11 a.m., Aug. 24, 2023
More than two weeks since the tragic firestorms blazed through Maui, killing 115 people, 1,100 people are still unaccounted for in the search. Crews are still looking, and local newspapers are planning to publish the names of the people they have listed on the list of those missing, NBC News reported.
Californian tourist among those who died: A 72-year-old woman from Pollock Pines, California, was vacationing on the island when the fires broke out. Terri Cook was last seen leaving the Best Western Pioneer Inn on foot by herself, KCRA reported. Her family was notified Sunday that she had died in the fire.
- “She had messaged us and said she was having a wonderful time and the island was so healing,” her daughter, Melissa Kornweibel, told KCRA.
- In 2007, Cook and her family also experienced the devastation of wildfires when the Angora Fire consumed their family home in South Lake Tahoe, her son, Adam Cook, told KCRA.
“My mom was someone who would put others’ needs ahead of her own, even a complete stranger. She had a heart of gold and will be deeply missed by many,” Cook told KCRA.
Residents return to homes without water, electricity: While a large portion of the historic town of Lahaina was destroyed, residents who survived have begun returning to their homes, or what is left of them. Without access to water or electricity, those who returned to their homes “not only breathe thick air laden with soot and smoke but also live amid the stench of uncollected trash piling up outdoors,” per NBC News.
- Lilia Vicera, a 73-year-old Maui resident, told NBC News she doesn’t have electricity or running water but remains in her multilevel home.
- “It’s a tough way to live,” she said. “We’d rather stay here, but we have to sacrifice.”
What survivors are saying: More details have emerged about how many survivors were just minutes away from survival or death from the fires depending on split second decisions. Multiple people reported to The Associated Press dodging barricades or swerving onto dirt roads to avoid stopped traffic in narrow roads.
- Maui resident Nate Baird told the AP he and his family drove around the cones blocking the road where crews were fixing downed electric poles, ignoring crew members waving them to turn around.
- “Nobody realized how little time we really had,” Baird told AP. “Like even us being from the heart of the fire, we did not comprehend. Like we literally had minutes and one wrong turn. We would all be dead right now.”
Vulnerable seniors report fending for themselves when the fire started spreading, according to investigations by The Washington Post.
- Eight residents of Hale Mahaolu Eono, a low-income senior-living apartment complex, are listed among those dead or missing — about a quarter of all the residents of the complex, the Post reported.
- “Nobody did it on purpose,” Kathleen Sicard, a resident of Hale Mahaolu Eono, told the Post. “Nobody knew how to handle this.”
- Other disasters mimic a similar pattern of tragedy for people in their later years — half the people killed in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans were older than 75, while 66 of 85 identified deaths in northern California’s 2018 Camp Fire were over 65, per the Post.
Search continues for 500 to 1,000 people still missing in Maui
Noon, Aug. 22, 2023
Search and rescue continues to look for the 500 to 1,000 people who are still missing in Lahaina. Maui authorities decided not to publish the list with the names of those missing because of privacy concerns and worries of “further traumatizing families of those who are now listed as missing but may turn out to be dead,” The Associated Press reported.
Since Monday, 115 people have been confirmed dead, and searches for the missing people press on. The death toll marks the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in the last century, according to The New York Times.
Those with immediate family members who are missing were urged by Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen to bring in DNA samples to “help assist in the identification process,” CBS News reported.
In 2018, a wildfire flattened the town of Paradise, California, and the local paper initially published a list of the people missing. The decision ultimately helped crew identify enough people who had been named as missing but actually made it out alive that the list of missing names dropped from 1,300 to 12, per AP.
President Joe Biden visited the Hawaiian island Monday and remarked on the “remarkable resiliency” of the people in the community, speaking to the 400 people who turned out for the community event.
He also talked about his own experience with loss, sharing about when a car accident killed his first wife and young daughter. He said he understands “that hollow feeling you have in your chest like you’re being sucked into a black hole,” per Reuters.
Promising to help support the community, he said, “The American people stand with you,” he told survivors, Reuters reported. “For as long as it takes, we’re going to be with you.”
Biden boards plane to Maui following wildfires. 850 still missing
11 a.m., Aug. 21, 2023
President Joe Biden announced that he and the first lady will be visiting the island of Maui after devastating wildfires broke out across the island.
The fire was 85% contained Sunday evening and the death toll has risen little since Thursday, with 114 dead and an estimated 850 still missing, reported the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
After a brief family trip at Lake Tahoe, the Bidens boarded the plane to head to Maui Sunday, where they plan to meet with survivors, emergency responders and government leaders, Biden posted on X, previously known as Twitter.
“Jill and I are eager to meet with the brave first responders in Lahaina tomorrow, to spend time with families and community members, and witness firsthand what will be required for the community to recover,” he wrote on Sunday.
There is no confirmation yet on whether the president has landed on Maui.
Maui Emergency Management Agency administrator resigns following criticism over alarm system failure
7 a.m., Aug. 18, 2023
According to a Maui County press release, Maui Emergency Management Agency Administrator Herman Andaya resigned from his post on Thursday due to health reasons. His resignation comes after he said he did not regret not activating sirens that would have warned residents of the fires, per The Associated Press.
Hawaii often touts this alarm system as being the “largest integrated outdoor all-hazard public safety warning system in the world,” the Deseret News previously reported.
For it not to have been activated is a puzzle to the island’s residents, considering the impressive scale of the system, with 400 sirens around the island.
Andaya said in a press conference the day before his resignation that “the sirens were primarily used for tsunamis and that if they had sounded them, they were afraid people would have gone ‘mauka’ — or towards the mountain,” per NPR.
NPR further reports that residents were skeptical of this notion. Alex Calma, a Lahaina resident who lost his home, said, “If I would have heard the siren that morning, I would have at least prepared, you know, packed something in my car, called my parents.”
“Given the gravity of the crisis we are facing, my team and I will be placing someone in this key position as quickly as possible and I look forward to making that announcement soon,” Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said, per the release.
Death toll reaches 111, children found among the wreckage as schools reopen
10:30 a.m., Aug. 17, 2023
Wednesday night ended with the death toll of the fire reaching 111, officials said.
The names of three more of the dead have been announced, all older adults. Lahaina residents Melva Benjamin, 71, Virginia Dofa, 90, and Alfredo Galinato, 79, were among those killed by the fire, per Maui Times. Four more have been identified and their identities released following next of kin protocols.
Public identification of the victims has been slow, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said, because most of the bodies cannot be identified using fingerprints, forcing authorities to work based off of DNA, per the Times.
“We have to be respectful because we have one chance to do this right,” he said. “I know everyone wants to know who’s on that list. I’m not going to rush it.”
“It may take a while because going through debris takes time and fire does highly modify structures,” Christopher Schmidt, director of the Bioarchaeology Lab at the University of Indianapolis, told USA Today. “Everyone’s doing the very best they can.”
Officials fear that many children are among the dead. “We found remains that are maybe smaller than other remains” amid the devastation, Pelletier said during a press conference, per ABC. He confirmed that these smaller remains were children killed in the blaze.
School on the island was set to start the day of the fire but was canceled when the electricity went out, reported The Wall Street Journal. Many children were home alone while their parents left for work.
In these cases, officials said they will spare the families details of the condition of the recovered remains, reported the Times.
West Maui schools remain closed as other counties opened schools Wednesday, Hawaii Public Schools posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
A week later — the first names of the deceased released; Biden to travel to Maui Monday amid relief efforts
9:30 a.m., Aug. 16, 2023
Since the fires in Maui broke out last week, the death toll has continued to rise as search efforts have been underway. The death toll added five more and reached 106 on Tuesday night. Five who died in the Maui wildfires were identified by authorities late Tuesday.
Crews are rushing against time as another impending storm is predicted to hit this weekend, making it more difficult to find remains, reported The Associated Press. Only about 30% of the burn area has been searched. A mobile morgue unit complete with staff was sent by federal officials to speed up the recovery and identification process.
Residents of Lahaina, Robert Dyckman, 74, and Buddy Jantoc, 79, are the first to be identified and next of kin notified, per a press release. The other three individuals identified are awaiting responses from next of kin, police said.
“We offer our deepest condolences to the families who are beginning to receive notifications about their loved ones,” said Maui Mayor Richard Bissen in the release. “As a community, we offer our prayers of comfort in this most difficult time.”
Jantoc’s family remembers him as an easygoing grandpa, who cared enough to check in after storms and tell them where to find the cheapest gas in the capital, reported The New York Times. He was a musician, with an apartment full of instruments and a legacy of playing with artists such as Carlos Santana.
President Joe Biden is expected to visit the island on Monday, two weeks after the first fires broke out, per a White House release.
“My wife, Jill, and I are going to travel to Hawaii as soon as we can,” Biden said in a speech earlier this week in Milwaukee, per the Times. “That’s what I’ve been talking to the governor about but I don’t want to get in the way.”
Death toll rises to 101, road to Lahaina reopened to motorists
9:55 p.m., Aug. 15, 2023
According to The Associated Press, the confirmed death toll reached 101 on Tuesday, with many still missing. Four people have been identified among the dead. According to a Maui County press release, authorities will contact their families and then release their names.
Thirty-two percent of the burn area has been searched for missing people so far. AP reports that authorities have been overwhelmed by search requests.
Per a press release, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green announced that beginning Aug. 16, authorities will reopen the road to Lahaina to motorists from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. From 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. access to Lahaina will be limited to first responders, residents and employees.
Green said, “We are prioritizing the reopening of this passage to ensure access for first responders, medical professionals, residents of West Maui, and the public.”
While the Kaʻanapali fire remains extinguished, the Pūlehu/Kihei fire is 100% contained, the Lahaina fire is 85% contained and the Kula fire is 60% contained.
Names of the dead to be released Tuesday — More than 1,000 still reported missing following Lahaina fire
8:30 a.m., Aug. 15, 2023
As cellphone service has slowly returned to the island, the number of missing persons has dropped, but still about 1,300 are missing as the town of Lahaina is searched for remains by crews, The Associated Press reported Monday night.
Hawaiian Electric released a statement Monday night that said the company has restored 80% of power and communications to the area, which has helped people find their loved ones. But still many have no way to contact family, with their phones lost in the fire, Gov. Josh Green said, per CNN.
The death toll is closing in on the 100 mark, hitting 99 on Monday, per AP. Green expects that number to rise by 10 or 20 more a day, as long as the search goes on.
A quarter of the area had been searched as of Monday, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier told CNN, and he expects to complete the majority of the search by the weekend. The names of the deceased will begin to be released Tuesday, as families are notified.
Death toll reaches 96, authorities say numbers are expected to rise
8:30 a.m., Aug. 14, 2023
The death toll from the Maui wildfires has reached 96 on Monday, with officials reportedly saying they expect the numbers to rise.
USA Today reported that according to some estimates, more than 1,000 people could still be missing due to the wildfires.
As the search for missing survivors continues, officials have reportedly said they believe the number of deaths will increase.
Gov. Josh Green said, according to The Guardian, “I do expect the numbers to rise.”
NBC News reported that “specialist teams are searching through Maui’s charred ruins for those who are still missing, with only 3% of the affected area having been searched as of Sunday.”
As Maui fire becomes the nation’s deadliest in a century, tourists urged to stay away
8:23 p.m., Aug. 13, 2023
With search efforts just beginning, Hawaii officials are urging tourists not to come to Maui, but to instead visit the state’s other islands, according to The Associated Press. That will leave hotel rooms available for displaced residents and first responders.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said 500 hotels rooms will be made available for affected locals, with 500 more for workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the AP reported. Some hotels will carry on with normal business to help preserve jobs and sustain the local economy, Green said.
On Saturday, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said search teams with cadaver dogs had been through just 3% of the affected area. The number of dead is likely to continue to grow as the search continues.
“We’ve got an area that we have to contain that is at least 5 square miles, and it is full of our loved ones,” he said.
Death toll reaches 93, authorities work to identify the dead
10:00 a.m., Aug. 13, 2023
As of Sunday morning, the death toll from the Maui wildfire reached 93 people as authorities began the process of identifying the dead.
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said that only two people have been identified so far. The process of identifying the bodies is difficult because “we pick up the remains and they fall apart,” Pelletier told The Associated Press.
As crews with cadaver dogs search the area razed by wildfire, the official death toll will likely grow. “None of us really know the size of it yet,” Pelletier said, referring to the number of dead.
At least 2,200 buildings, most of them homes, were damaged or destroyed in West Maui, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said, according the the AP. Across the island, the damage estimate is close to $6 billion.
Death toll climbs to 89, ‘toxic’ ash blankets Lahaina
9:50 p.m., Aug. 12, 2023
With 89 deaths and more expected, the Lahaina fire has become the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. over the last 100 years, USA Today reported.
According to Maui Police Chief John Pelletier, authorities have identified two of the 89 people whose remains have been recovered.
“We’re going as fast as we can, but just so you know, 3%. That’s what’s been searched with the dogs: 3%,” Pelletier said, per CNN.
After being reopened for residents to assess the wreckage on Friday, Lahaina and West Maui were closed off again Saturday due to the presence of “toxic” ash in the area.
In a press conference, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green described the fires as being the “largest natural disaster” in Hawaii’s statehood.
Officials are continuing to secure temporary housing for residents affected by the fires and fly non-residents off the island, Green noted.
“Almost 15,000 passengers per day were flown out. It makes our recovery work quite a lot easier and most have left the region,” he told the press. “We still have people staying at the airport or making decisions about when they are ready to go. A lot of people are traumatized and traumatized at what they see others are going through.”
Death toll rises to 80 as rescuers search through wildfire wreckage
11:00 a.m., Aug. 12, 2023
As of Saturday morning, the fire that has wiped through the historic town of Lahaina is still actively burning, but according to local officials, it is about 85% contained, NBC News reported.
At least 80 deaths have been confirmed and many people are still reported missing.
When the road to Lahaina opened on Saturday morning, search and rescue parties resumed, per NBC. However, the operation has shifted into a recovery mission as officials enter the area with cadaver dogs, and search buildings that were inaccessible before. NBC reported that the death toll will “unequivocally” rise as new areas are searched.
On Friday night, a new fire broke out near a county gas and diesel distribution center, prompting an evacuation order for residents in the town of Kaanapali, directly north of Lahaina, according to The New York Times. Maui County officials stated that the new fire was fully contained by 8:30 p.m. Friday night, per the Times’ reporting.
Some Lahaina residents were allowed to return to the town to assess their properties beginning Friday afternoon, per CBS News, and officials said that “a daily curfew will be in effect between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in the disaster area.” CBS also reports that due to the active burn areas being “highly toxic” according to officials, residents have been advised to wear masks and gloves and beware of the fire’s hot spots.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said that at least 2,000 people will need temporary housing due to hundreds of homes being lost, and he called on people throughout Hawaii “to take in displaced residents from west Maui if they had the room to accommodate them,” NPR reported.
In addition to displaced residents staying in hotels and with other Hawaii residents, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said he would be lifting restrictions on short-term rentals in the city to help provide more emergency housing options, according to The New York Times.
Maui County repair costs are estimated at $5.52 billion, according to the Pacific Disaster Center and FEMA.
At least 67 people have died, making it the deadliest natural disaster in Hawaii state history
7:00 p.m., Aug. 11, 2023
This afternoon, Hawaiian officials confirmed that 12 more people had died in the fires, bringing the total death toll to 67 so far. That makes the devastating wildfire the deadliest natural disaster to strike Hawaii since it became a U.S. state, according to ABC News.
Dogs were brought to the island to search for the dead and work alongside rescue crews to search the charred buildings in the area on Friday, USA Today reported.
“The death count that we had so far really constitutes anyone who was visible from outside of the buildings,” Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz told The New York Times, “And so we are expecting bad news over the next couple of days.”
On Friday, Hawaiian Gov. Josh Green “ordered a comprehensive review of the state’s actions in the hours after devastating wildfires broke out on the islands,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
CNN also reported on a review of the state’s and the city’s planning records that showed “that Hawaii officials had underestimated the deadly threat of wildfires.”
The U.S. Coast Guard continues to look for missing people in the ocean waters around the area for those who likely fled the fires by heading into the water, per the Times.
Death toll rises to 55 — expected to rise as personnel search inside buildings
8:00 a.m., Aug. 11, 2023
The death toll has risen to more than 55 and is expected to rise as emergency personnel continue recovery. A failed emergency alarm system on the island and power outages severely restricted real-time information updates for residents.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said that the wildfires this week are “likely the largest natural disaster in Hawaii state history,” per The Washington Post.
During an interview with NBC’s “Today” show, Maui County Mayor Richard T. Bissen Jr. said that the current death count only reflects those found outside the buildings.
“We have not yet searched in the interior of the buildings,” Bissen said. “We’re waiting for FEMA to help with that search, as they are equipped to handle the hazmat conditions of the buildings that have been burned.”
Bissen said that conditions created “an impossible situation” for the siren system, reported the Post. It did not sound properly to warn the community, although Bissen couldn’t say whether or not it sounded at all.
About 400 sirens are around the island — the state calls it the “largest integrated outdoor all-hazard public safety warning system in the world,” per KHON2.
A Hawaii Emergency Management Agency spokesman told The Associated Press that records don’t show that the alarm was triggered on Tuesday when the fire started. Emergency alerts on mobile phones, TV stations and radio stations were used instead.
There was little warning for residents when the fires broke out. KHON2 reported that residents didn’t receive real-time information because of the outages, only evacuating when they saw the flames or smelled smoke.
Lack of water also intensified the situation, Bissen told NBC.
1,700 buildings destroyed in wildfires, 14,500 more visitors to be evacuated
6:30 p.m., Aug. 10, 2023
As search and rescue operations continued on Thursday, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green announced in a press conference that the death toll had risen to 53, per The Associated Press.
Green also expressed his fear that the death toll from the wildfires would raise significantly and surpass that of the 1960 tsunami that killed 61 people, USA Today reported.
In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Green estimated that 1,700 buildings perished in the fires and said, “about 80% of Lahaina is gone.”
Earlier in the day, President Biden Joe Biden declared the Maui fires a major disaster, paving the way for federal aid to support affected communities.
Among other uses, “assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster,” a White House press release said.
According to the Hawaiian Tourism Authority, tourists are still being moved off-island, with 14,500 visitors estimated to be transported off the island by the end of Thursday. That’s in addition to the 14,000 visitors moved off of Maui on Wednesday.
Winds die down, officials gather first glimpses of Hawaii’s fire damage from the sky
8:00 a.m., Aug. 10, 2023
As of Wednesday night, the death count for the Maui fires has risen to at least 36, with 30 more wounded, reported Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
More than 11,000 travelers were evacuated from the popular vacation destination and the airport is fully operational, Reuters reported.
Damage is extensive to the island, especially the west side, which has been blocked off and restricted to emergency personnel only, Reuters reported. Only a single highway is accessible for evacuees to leave the area.
“We just had the worst disaster I’ve ever seen. All of Lahaina is burnt to a crisp. It’s like an apocalypse,” Lahaina resident Mason Jarvi, who escaped from the city, told Reuters.
Helicopters have since been able to get into the air to assess the damage more fully. It was reported by the Star-Advertiser that 271 structures have been destroyed or damaged on the Valley Isle.
Richard Olstein of Air Maui Helicopters shared footage of the damage from the air, where smoke rises and burnt structures are prominent, especially in the harbor.
“Local people have lost everything. They’ve lost their house. They’ve lost their animals. It’s devastating,” said Jimmy Tokioka, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, per Reuters.
Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke said in a Wednesday update that “it will be a long road to recovery.”
Emergency personnel are still working to rescue people and control the fires.
Special unit dispatched to help with fire control and aftermath
4:19 p.m., Aug. 9, 2023
Six people have been confirmed dead with search-and-rescue efforts continuing on the island, per NBC News.
Due to burn risks and catastrophic damage to homes and businesses in western Maui, over 2,000 people have been admitted to shelters, per CNN. Some of those at the shelters remain unaccounted for.
The wildfires in Lahaina, Pūlehu, Kihei and Kula have also negatively impacted local cellphone service. According to CNN, strong winds felled 29 utility poles and, with the fires, damaged fiber optic cables.
Amid the devastation, U.S. officials are discouraging nonessential travel to the island, with American and United Airlines canceling flights to Maui’s Kahului Airport. Per CNN, flights will still be operational out of Maui in order to help evacuate people.
Maui hospitals are seeing an influx of patients injured by the fires, so those who suffered severe injuries from the fires aren’t able to be treated on the island.
“We are already in communication with other hospital systems about relieving the burden — the reality is that we need to fly people out of Maui to give them burn support because Maui hospital cannot do extensive burn treatment,” acting Gov. Sylvia Luke told USA Today.
Rounding out the rescue and firefighting effort, the Hawaii Military and National Guard have committed two Blackhawk helicopters and one Chinook helicopter, reports NBC News.
CNN also has reports of a “special unit that is trained in search and rescue operations” being sent to the island as well.
Fire breaks out in Maui
9:07 a.m., Aug. 9, 2023
Wildfires on Tuesday spread quickly on the island of Maui, fueled by Hurricane Dora’s winds and spurring many to evacuate their homes.
Blazes erupted on the west side of the island in Lahaina, a popular tourist destination, and another inland mountainous region, officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday night. An estimated 400 homes in four different communities were evacuated.
One video on social media shows a group of people fleeing the fires. The person taking the video is clearly breathing heavily with panic as the windows of the car are illuminated with houses and cars burning just outside. The driver comments that he can’t see because of the thick smoke.
Closest to the coast, at least a dozen people were forced into the water to avoid the flames and were rescued by about 11 p.m., when the Coast Guard was activated by Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, Hawaii News Now reported.
Not just homes, but several businesses were set ablaze along the “most important business street on Maui,” as one resident described it to Hawaii News Now.
“Buildings on both sides were engulfed,” he told the news station. “There were no fire trucks at that point; I think the fire department was overwhelmed.”
Because of high wind gusts from Hurricane Dora, helicopters weren’t cleared for takeoff and weren’t able to extinguish fires from the sky, AP reported. Firefighters were having a hard time maneuvering on the roads because of road blockages.
Winds as strong as 60 mph from the storm made the situation extremely dangerous, Fire Assistant Chief Jeff Giesea told AP.
“The fire can be a mile or more from your house, but in a minute or two, it can be at your house,” Giesea said.
Winds are expected to die down late Wednesday and allow officials to better assess the damage and injuries.
“It’s definitely one of the more challenging days for our island,” County of Maui spokesperson Mahina Martin told AP.
Contributing: Rebecca Olds, Asia Bown, Sarah Gambles, Gabby Peterson, Ashley Nash, Hannah Murdock