Raging wildfires have killed at least six and created a state of emergency in Maui on Wednesday.
The fires, which started in the town of Lahaina in Maui, caused by winds from Hurricane Dora, have forced evacuations of residents and tourists throughout the island, particularly in North Kohala, South Kohala, Kula, and Lahaina, which has long been one of the island’s most popular tourist spots.
Outside of the six already killed, the island’s mayor, Richard Bissen Jr., said on Wednesday that several more people are also unaccounted for and that “many” businesses and buildings in the town of Lahaina have burned to the ground. The complete picture of what impact the fire has had will not be known for a few days, but photos and videos from people on the ground show a devastating scene.
New video shows a massive fire raging near homes in Maui, as an emergency proclamation has been declared for Hawaii and Maui counties over dangerous wildfires. https://t.co/2KsBGPjap4 pic.twitter.com/irg2TR4bPn— ABC News (@ABC) August 9, 2023
Bissen Jr. added that more than 2,000 people are currently at five shelters now opened on the island.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning about the fire for Wednesday through 6 p.m. as the island issued a State of Emergency to everyone on the island.
“Very dry fuels combined with strong and gusty easterly winds and low humidities will produce critical fire weather conditions through the afternoon hours,” according to the alert.
According to the latest update from the state, the fires have burned “hundreds of acres” and forced closures of roads and schools.
“These fires threaten to cause damages, losses, and suffering of such character and magnitude to affect the health, welfare, and living conditions of a substantial number of persons,” the state wrote in an update on Wednesday afternoon.
The State of Emergency will last through at least August 15, and it is all hands on deck to assist Maui from other Hawaiian Islands—Honolulu will send a team of firefighters to Maui, according to the Honolulu Mayor's Office, and Hawaii’s National Guardsmen have been activated and are currently on Maui assisting its police department at traffic control points, according to the state’s adjutant general.
Hawaii is currently urging against all non-essential travel to the island, though the island’s airport, Kahului Airport, remains open. The airport has remained open throughout the emergency, according to the Hawaii Department of Transportation, in order to assist in evacuation efforts.
“Please be patient at Kahului Airport during this emergency. All airlines are sending additional support to aid in getting people off the island. TSA Hawaii leadership will be adding resources to support OGG,” the Hawaii DOT’s Wednesday afternoon update reads.
Hawaiian Airlines, the state’s largest air operator that has its secondary hub out of Kahului, is currently telling passengers who do not have travel booked, to avoid coming to the airport as it is already crowded. Hawaiian is operating its full flight schedule out of Maui but emphasized that is it “concentrating our resources on transporting essential personnel and first responders. Flights between Kahului, Maui (OGG), and other destinations can be booked on our website.”
The carrier is alerting everyone who has plans to fly into Hawaii to abide by the state’s recommendations to avoid non-essential travel to the island. It does expect to continue to operate flights to Maui as scheduled but expects significant disruptions. Flight tracking website FlightAware is showing that the airport is still operating as close to a regular schedule as can be expected, with less than 15% of departures and arrivals canceled or delayed.
As to other travel, Hawaiian Airlines added that it is currently “planning to operate our flights as scheduled, but there may be some disruptions as we work to support essential travel needs for Maui. We encourage you to check our website or mobile app for flight status updates and to arrive early at the airport.”
Southwest Airlines said on Wednesday that all those scheduled to travel to, from, or through Kahului until Aug. 14 can change their departure/origin to any of its other Hawaii destinations including Hilo, Honolulu, Kona, and Lihue. United Airlines has also issued its own travel waiver for Kahului and Honolulu, which can be viewed here.