Wildfires in Hawaii: 36 dead

At least 36 people have died in the city of Lahaina on Maui alone. Eyewitnesses report apocalyptic scenes. Travel to the island is currently discouraged.

Thick smoke hangs over the vacation paradise, a strip of Maui’s coastline is ablaze, parts of the usually lush green island are charred black.

These are shocking images from Hawaii, where devastating bush and forest fires are raging. At least 36 people have died near the town of Lāhainā alone. This was announced by the district administration of Maui County, which includes the entire island of Maui. The death toll could be higher, said Richard Bissen, the county mayor.

Many buildings had burned down “to the foundations”. Several hundred families lost their homes. The injured were taken to hospitals with burns and smoke inhalation. Hawaii’s governor Josh Green spoke of a “terrible disaster”. The authorities advise against traveling to Maui. “This is not a safe place,” Deputy Governor Sylvia Luke said. She wants to keep tourists away with an emergency declaration.

Hawaii News Now reports the Lahaina fire is out of control. There are also two other major fires on the island that are also raging uncontrollably.

“We don’t have Lahaina anymore, it’s gone”

Eyewitnesses describe apocalyptic scenes from Lāhainā. People jumped into the sea to flee from the rapidly spreading flames. The Coast Guard later said more than a dozen were rescued from the water, according to CNN.

Large parts of the historic site were destroyed, and the port and surrounding area also suffered damage, wrote the Maui district. Almost 300 buildings were caught by the flames. “We don’t have Lahaina anymore, it’s gone,” CNN quoted a resident as saying.

Helicopter pilot Richard Olsten flew over the site on Wednesday and reported his impressions to CNN. Most of the historic core burned down. It looks like a war zone, as if the area has been bombed.

Fires also raged on the neighboring island of Big Island to the east, the largest island in the state of the same name. A state of emergency has been declared for both islands.

Hurricane fuels fire

Authorities say Hurricane Dora, which is passing south of Maui and the Big Island, is partly to blame for the rapidly spreading fires. “The fact that we have wildfires in multiple areas that are indirectly attributable to a hurricane is unprecedented. It’s something the Hawaiians and the state have never experienced,” said Vice Governor Luke. The authorities had issued a “red flag” warning for the Hawaiian island chain because of the high risk of fire caused by drought, high temperatures and strong winds. Such conditions are otherwise more familiar from western US states, including California or Oregon, where devastating wildfires occur more frequently.

US President Joe Biden has pledged aid to Hawaii. The National Guard and Navy stand by the response teams. The Department of Transportation will help fly vacationers out of Maui, a statement said. They should be taken to the island of Oahu, west of Maui, the broadcaster Hawaii News Now reported. There, a convention center will be transformed into an emergency shelter.

Several airlines canceled flights to Maui at short notice on Wednesday. However, there are still flights from Maui so that vacationers can start their return journey, CNN reported. According to the Maui County Council, there are seats available on flights departing from Kahului Airport on the east side of the island. However, travelers would have to call and reserve the airlines beforehand. In West Maui, however, there is still no electricity and no mobile or landline connections.

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