The Inertia

Wildfires on Maui have burned multiple buildings, forced evacuations, caused power outages and sent residents to nearby hospitals. As the blazes affect multiple locations, emergency crews’ efforts have been thwarted by gusts of wind that have stoked fires and made it difficult to access different locations.

Fires on Maui were concentrated in two areas: West Maui and an inland, mountainous region. Lahaina was particularly affected by the blaze. “Buildings on both sides were engulfed,” Front Street business owner Alan Dickar told CBS Honolulu affiliate KGMB-TV. “There were no fire trucks at that point; I think the fire department was overwhelmed.”

The Coast Guard tweeted that a crew rescued 12 people from the water off Lahaina, after they fled to the water to escape flames and smoke.

Dickar told CBS News’ Patrick Torphy, “Maui can’t handle this. … A lot of people just lost their jobs because a lot of businesses burned. A lot of people lost their homes. … This is going to be devastating for Maui.”

In the Kula area of Maui, at least two homes were destroyed in a fire that engulfed about 1.7 square miles, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said. About 80 people were evacuated from 40 homes.

Acting Governor Sylvia Luke issued an emergency proclamation on behalf of Gov. Josh Green, who is traveling, and activated the Hawaii National Guard. All of Maui’s public schools except for one were closed Wednesday, the state Education Department announced. The Red Cross has opened shelters on Maui and the Big Island. There are four shelters open, with more than 1,000 people at the largest.

Hurricane Dora, passing 500 miles south of the island chain, has been exacerbating the situation, according to the National Weather Service. Gusts above 60 mph knocked out power and shook homes Tuesday night. Furthermore, the heavy winds grounded firefighting helicopters, preventing firefighters from dumping water on the fires from above and precisely estimating fire sizes. On the ground, firefighters were encountering roads blocked by downed trees and power lines.

“It’s definitely one of the more challenging days for our island given that it’s multiple fires, multiple evacuations in the different district areas,” County of Maui spokesperson Mahina Martin told The Associated Press late Tuesday.

There’s no count available for the number of structures that have burned or the number of people who have evacuated. As of Thursday, 36 fatalities have been reported. Honolulu Emergency Services Department spokesperson Shayne Enright told the AP that the department has taken in burn patients from Maui. One woman in her 60s was transported to a Honolulu hospital burn center in critical condition.

Maui isn’t the only island affected by fires. The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved a disaster declaration to provide assistance with a fire that threatened about 200 homes in and around Kohala Ranch on the Big Island, according to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

The weather service had a high wind warning and red flag warnings in effect for dangerous fire weather, Jeff Powell, a meteorologist in Honolulu told the AP. The conditions were expected to decrease throughout the day Wednesday and into Thursday.

August 9: Maui’s mayor, Richard Bissen Jr., said at a Wednesday morning news conference that there have been at least six fatalities from the fires, as CNN Reports. He also added that they are “still in a search and rescue mode,” and several people are still unaccounted for. No further details were provided about the deaths.

August 10 at 11:30 a.m. PST:  The amount of reported fatalities has climbed to 36. Many residents have been left without cell service or power. The White House has declared the event a major disaster and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.

August 10 at 8:56 p.m. PST: The death toll has risen to 53, and officials  warn that it will likely continue to rise. Hawaii’s governor, Josh Green, described the fires as likely the largest natural disaster in state history.


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