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Hawaii wildfires kills six people and ravage Maui homes.

Hawaii wildfires kills six people and ravage Maui homes.CORRECTS DATE TO AUG. 8 - People watch as smoke and flames fill the air from raging wildfires on Front Street in downtown Lahaina, Maui on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. Maui officials say wildfire in the historic town has burned parts of one of the most popular tourist areas in Hawaii. County of Maui spokesperson Mahina Martin said in a phone interview early Wednesday says fire was widespread in Lahaina, including Front Street, an area of the town popular with tourists. (Alan Dickar via AP)

Hawaii wildfires kills six people and ravage Maui homes.

Publish – 10 aug , 2023

A fast and furious wildfire raced through the heart of Maui on Wednesday, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. The flames consumed numerous homes and businesses in a historic tourist town, resulting in a tragic loss of life with at least six individuals confirmed dead and around two dozen others injured. The urgency of the situation forced panicked locals to seek refuge in the ocean as they sought to escape the relentless inferno.

Lahaina Town, a cherished location featuring the well-visited Front Street known for its shopping and dining, found itself engulfed in flames, as revealed by County of Maui spokesperson Mahina Martin during an early Wednesday phone call.

Photographs released by the county overnight unveiled a daunting image of flames crossing an intersection and leaping over structures within the town center, a locale that traces its roots back to the 1700s and is proudly listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Aerial footage captured after sunrise presented the grim aftermath, depicting entire blocks of buildings reduced to ashes and a dense shroud of smoke enveloping the area.

As the situation grew increasingly dire, the county issued a tweet warning against venturing into Lahaina Town. Hours later, all routes to and from West Maui’s principal community were sealed, permitting solely emergency personnel passage. Over 2,100 residents sought refuge in evacuation centers overnight.

Firefighting teams on Maui confronted multiple conflagrations concentrated within two specific regions: the sought-after destination of West Maui, and an inland, mountainous expanse. In West Maui, the disruption to 911 service led residents to contact the police department directly for assistance.

Hawaii wildfires kills six people and ravage Maui homes.
 (Alan Dickar via AP)

 

The influence of Hurricane Dora was felt as it skirted at a safe distance of 500 miles (805 kilometers) south of the island chain. Its impact was evident in gusts exceeding 60 mph (97 kph), which caused power outages, unsettled residences, and halted firefighting helicopter operations. As the intensity of the wind subsided somewhat, flight operations resumed on Wednesday.

In response to the dire situation, the Coast Guard carried out a successful rescue mission on Tuesday, saving 14 individuals, including two children, who had sought refuge in the ocean to evade the encroaching fire and smoky environment, as confirmed by a county statement.

Tragedy struck as fires claimed six lives on the island of Maui, according to County of Maui Mayor Richard Bissen Jr.’s statement during a news conference on Wednesday morning. With limited information at that moment, he acknowledged his recent awareness of the fatalities but lacked details regarding the specifics of the incidents or their locations on the island.

On Tuesday night, six patients were transported from Maui to Oahu, a journey facilitated by Speedy Bailey, the regional director of Hawaii Life Flight—an air-ambulance service. Among these patients, three sustained critical burns and were admitted to the burn unit at Straub Medical Center. The remainder were dispatched to different hospitals in Honolulu. Additionally, a minimum of 20 patients were transferred to Maui Memorial Medical Center. Up until that point, no reports of fatalities had been received.

Hawaii wildfires kills six people and ravage Maui homes.

 

On Wednesday, authorities reported that a firefighter from Maui had been hospitalized and was in stable condition due to smoke inhalation.

Acting Governor Sylvia Luke issued an emergency proclamation on behalf of Governor Josh Green, who was away on travel. The Hawaii National Guard was activated to provide assistance.

As of now, officials indicated that there were no confirmed deaths. The extent of structural damage and the number of evacuees remain unknown. However, Mahina Martin, a spokesperson, mentioned that four shelters were operational, accommodating over 1,000 individuals at the largest one.

Martin underscored the unprecedented nature of the situation, highlighting the widespread impact across multiple districts. The emergency that unfolded during the night was described as terrifying, with the added challenge of darkness hindering accurate assessment of the extent of the damage.

The principal airport in Maui, Kahului Airport, has provided shelter to 2,000 travelers who either had their flights canceled or recently arrived on the island, according to county reports.

Preparations are underway at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu to accommodate numerous displaced tourists and local residents.

Alan Dickar, owner of the Vintage European Posters gallery, expressed uncertainty regarding the state of his establishment, which had been a fixture on Front Street in Lahaina for 23 years. With three friends and two cats, Dickar evacuated, capturing footage of the flames consuming the bustling line of shops and restaurants frequently visited by tourists.

“Everything significant I possessed was lost to the flames today,” he shared. “I’ll manage. I made it out safely.”

Dickar anticipated that the three houses he owned had also succumbed to the fire’s wrath. Rebuilding the portions of Lahaina that have been devastated will demand a Herculean effort, given that the town is home to around 13,000 residents.

He highlighted Front Street’s central role, explaining that it’s a must-visit spot for anyone on Maui. “The economic heart of this island resides in those central two blocks,” he said, expressing uncertainty about what remains after the fire’s passage.

The fires were not confined to Maui alone.

On Hawaii’s Big Island, three wildfires burned without causing any reported injuries or damage to homes, as confirmed by Mayor Mitch Roth on Wednesday. Firefighters managed to extinguish several roof fires. One fire is now largely under control, another is 60% contained, and the third near Mauna Kea Resorts continues to experience flareups.

Hawaii wildfires kills six people and ravage Maui homes.
 (Zeke Kalua/County of Maui via AP)

 

Due to the forceful wind gusts prevailing over Maui, helicopters found themselves unable to drop water on the fires or conduct aerial assessments of the fire sizes. Firefighters encountered obstacles as they battled the inland fires, including blocked roads obstructed by fallen trees and downed power lines, according to Mahina Martin.

An estimated 14,500 customers in Maui were left without power early Wednesday, as reported by poweroutage.us.

“It’s undoubtedly one of our island’s more demanding days, considering the simultaneous fires and evacuations occurring across various districts,” Martin remarked.

Tiare Lawrence found herself in a frantic state, trying to establish contact with her siblings on Wednesday morning, only to be met with a lack of phone service. Lawrence’s home in Pukalani, an eastern neighbor of Lahaina, provided refuge for 14 cousins and uncles who had fled the latter. “From their descriptions, it was reminiscent of an apocalypse,” Lawrence recalled. “The heat was unbearable, smoke enveloped everything, and flames were rampant. They had to rescue my elderly uncle from the house.”

As a result of the havoc, approximately 30 power poles were toppled, leaving residences, hotels, and shelters without electricity, noted Richard Bissen, Maui’s Mayor.

In Maui’s Kula area, a fire ravaged about 1.7 square miles (4.5 square kilometers), resulting in the destruction of at least two homes, according to Mayor Richard Bissen. In response, approximately 80 individuals from 40 homes were evacuated from the affected zone.

According to Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth, a few fires were still active on the island as of Wednesday, but the damage to homes remained “minimal,” as reported by Hawaii News Now.

The nature of fires in Hawaii sets them apart from many of the blazes occurring in the western United States. Typically originating in expansive grasslands on the arid sides of the islands, these fires are generally much smaller in scale than their mainland counterparts.

Historically, fires were infrequent occurrences on Hawaiian and other tropical islands prior to human settlement, and the native ecosystems evolved without adaptation to them. Consequently, the eruption of fires can lead to significant environmental harm. For instance, fires strip away vegetation, and subsequent heavy rainfall can wash loose soil into the ocean, suffocating coral reefs. A notable fire on the Big Island in 2021 resulted in home destruction and forced the evacuation of thousands.

On the island of Oahu, where Honolulu is situated, power outages, downed power lines, and traffic disruptions were being managed, revealed Adam Weintraub, the communication director for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

Though Lahaina is often perceived primarily as a tourist destination on Maui, Tiare Lawrence emphasized its vibrant Hawaiian community. She expressed deep sorrow, stating, “I’m shattered. Our cherished memories are everywhere. The homes of everyone. Lives have experienced a profound and tragic upheaval in the past 12 hours.”

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