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UPDATE: 10 p.m.
Maui Mayor Richard Bissen’s office said tonight that the confirmed death toll from the windswept wildfires that devastated Lahaina and other Valley Isle communities Tuesday has risen to 36.
Earlier today, they said six deaths had been confirmed.
Officials fear the death toll and injuries will rise. In addition to the 36 confirmed deaths, officials say at least 30 were wounded by the fires which forced some residents to jump into Lahaina Harbor to escape flames.
The firestorm is also estimated to have destroyed or damaged at least 271 structures on the Valley Isle.
Maui County officials provided no additional information on the deaths.
Also tonight, the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved the state’s request for a disaster declaration to provide assistance with the wind-whipped wildfires burning in Kula, Kihei and LahainaThe decision under the Fire Management Assistance Grant program opens the door to allow for federal reimbursement of up to 75% of the eligible firefighting costs, state officials said.
Meanwhile, about 11,000 Hawaii visitors have been flown from Maui as local leaders try to focus efforts on assisting Maui residents.
That was one of the updates at a news conference at the Hawaii Convention Center this evening held by Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono and other local leaders involved in the response to the Maui and Hawaii island fires.
State Department of Transportation Director Ed Sniffen said that airlines have helped accommodate Maui travelers to get them off the island.
Another 600 people are expected to spend tonight at the Kahului airport, he said.
While the convention center has been set up to accommodate visitors who need help figuring out where to stay or how to get home, it’s been mostly empty as visitors have been able to find a place to stay on their own.
“The hotels that had occupancy this morning, most of them don’t have that occupancy. That tells us that people are going straight from the airport and finding their accommodations and transportation,” James Tokioka, director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said at the news conference.
Sniffen noted that Hawaiian Airlines is operating until 2 a.m. Thursday and Southwest Airlines has dropped its fares to help in the effort.
In the meantime, Luke said the state is still in the “assessment stage,” so the extent of the damage is still not clear, but she said that recovery will take a long time.
Luke said that the state is applying for several types of federal aid to support affected residents and businesses as well as for rebuilding destroyed infrastructure.
Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency didn’t have an updated figure for the number of fatalities from the fires, deferring to the counties to provide those and similar numbers, but said Mayor Bissen plans on updating figures Thursday morning.
Regarding the cause of the fire, he mentioned that the high winds across the state, in part caused by Hurricane Dora passing to the south, took him by surprise.
“That wind speed, how rapidly that fire moved, that was not anticipated,” he said.
Maui County officials said three emergency shelters remain open: Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center, Maui High School Gym and War Memorial Gym.
Shelters at Maui Preparatory Academy and Kihei Community Center are closed, they said.
Kaiser Permanente reported its Lahaina clinic has been destroyed by the fire. Members are being directed to its Maui Lani location.
“Our focus is on the safety of our patients, members, employees, and communities and our priority right now is to ensure that our staff and their families are safe and sheltered,” said a Kaister statement. “Our Kihei Clinic is closed so that we can consolidate staffing resources to help care for our members at our Maui Lani Medical Office.”
Maui County officials said late this afternoon that visitors with vehicles or any means of transportation are being asked to leave Lahaina and Maui as soon as possible, “due to limited resources in this time of crisis.”
“A mass bus evacuation for visitors will be staged at Sheraton Maui Resort in Ka’anapali this afternoon and take visitors directly to Kahului Airport,” the county update said. “Five County of Maui buses, each with a capacity of 49 people, and five Polynesian Adventure Tours buses, each with a capacity of 50, will provide the transportation, with the first wave of buses expected to arrive at the Sheraton at about 4 p.m.
“Personal vehicles can go to the airport through Kahahuloa. Rental vehicles may be left on site.”
All Hawaii public schools on Maui, except Hana High & Elementary, will be closed to students and staff through Friday because of the wildfires and evacuations on the island.
The Department of Education’s Maui District Office and Pu‘unene School offices are also closed.
DOE officials said they awaiting clearance to access Lahaina to conduct preliminary damage assessments of public school campuses. Unofficial aerial photos show the King Kamehameha III Elementary campus — on Front Street in Lahaina — sustained extensive fire and structural damage, they said.
The four Lahaina schools enrolled nearly 3,000 students based on last school year’s enrollment counts and employ about 300 faculty and staff, officials said.
Schools Superintendent Keith Hayashi has assembled an internal response team to coordinate resources and planning.
A federal team is on the ground in Lahaina to assist with search and rescue efforts, Maui County said in a news release.
Flyovers of Lahaina conducted by U.S. Civil Air Patrol and Maui Fire Department reveal more than 271 structures were damaged or destroyed by the fire, culminating in widespread damage to the town, harbor and surrounding area, officials said.
With nearly 100 Maui firefighters working around the clock to battle the wildfires in Lahaina, Upcountry and Pulehu, MFD officials said, they requested the assistance of 20 firefighters from Honolulu, and incident management team.
Four helicopters were deployed for water drops in Lahaina, while two Chinook and four Windward Aviation helicopters conduct drops on the three active fires.
Meanwhile, three helicopters from the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy conducted search and rescue operations along the West Maui coastline.
MFD reported no significant changes for the three blazes.
Acting Gov. Sylvia Luke has issued a third emergency proclamation regarding the ongoing wildfire disaster in Maui and Hawaii island.
The third proclamation extends the emergency period through Aug. 31, from Aug. 15, which was the end date in the second proclamation issued early today.
The new proclamation also makes it easier for state and local authorities to assist in the response, recovery, and rebuilding efforts, the governor’s office said.
>> More than 12K without power on Maui, extended outages expected
>> Hawaii island still battling 3 blazes in Kohala
Maui Memorial Medical Center said since Tuesday night the hospital has been treating patients with burns, smoke inhalation, and other fire-related injuries.
As of this afternoon, Maui Memorial said all patients had been cared for.
Five have been admitted, including two for critical injuries. Seven others were transferred to Oahu for specialty services, including some for fire-related injuries. Other patients were treated and released.
“Our Emergency Operations Center is active and focused on creating capacity and providing support for our employees and community,” said Wade Ebersole, chief operations officer, in a news release. “Our caregivers care deeply about this community’s health and well-being and are working to ensure that all of our patients’ needs are being met. Our hearts and support are with our community and first responders during this challenging time.”
Maui Health officials said they are prepared to activate a surge plan if needed, and are collaborating closely with Kaiser Permanente Hawaii, Straub, and Queens to ensure timely treatment of care.
Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital remain fully operational and staffed.
Families looking for loved ones at Maui Memorial Medical Center should call the main hospital line at 808-244-9056 and provide a first and last name. To contact Kula Hospital, call 808-878-1221.
The Hawaii Department of Health, meanwhile, warns that the increased levels of smoke, ash, and dust on Maui and Hawaii island, can be harmful to those who suffer from pre-existing respiratory conditions.
Residents and visitors — especially those that suffer from asthma, bronchitis, or emphysema — should adhere to the following safety tips:
>> Avoid outdoor activities to reduce exposure and minimize health risks, particularly children, seniors and individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions and chronic lung and heart disease.
>> Stay indoors and close all windows and doors. If an air conditioner is used, set it to the recirculate option.
>> If you need to leave the affected area, turn on your vehicle’s air conditioner and set it to the recirculate option.
>> Always keep medications on hand.
>> Daily prescribed medications for respiratory illnesses should be taken on schedule.
>> Contact a doctor as soon as possible if you experience any health problems.
>> Do not smoke and avoid second-hand smoke.
>> Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
>> Have family emergency plans prepared and ready.
>> Heed warnings by county and state emergency management officials.
Aloha United Way said its 211 information and referral line is working closely with Maui and Hawaii island organizations to provide updates and information, and to answer questions when possible.
The service is available statewide and can also be accessed via email or chat.
John L. Fink, president & CEO of Aloha United Way, said the group’s home page, www.auw.org, lists a donation site for the Maui Fire Relief Fund and will send the money to Maui United Way, which will handle distribution over the coming months.
The Queen’s Health Systems confirmed it is caring for several patients as a result of the wildfires on Maui and Hawaii island.
“Our hearts and prayers are with the people of Maui and the Big Island during this difficult time,” Dr. Rick Bruno, the president of The Queen’s Medical Center and Queen’s University Medical Group, said in a statement. “The Queen’s Health System has been in communication with our government leaders and health care partners offering our assistance to Maui and Hawaii County. We are caring for several patients as a result of the wildfires on Maui and Hawaii Island. We remain ready to support our health care partners in whatever way we can.”
Queen’s gave no further information on the patients.
Kaiser Permanente officials, meanwhile, said its Lahaina and Kihei clinics are closed.
Wildfires killed six people on Maui, Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. said at a morning news conference. He said he had just learned the news and didn’t know the details of how or where on the island the deaths happened.
Six patients were flown from Maui to Oahu on Tuesday night, said Speedy Bailey, regional director for Hawaii Life Flight, an air-ambulance company. Three of them had critical burns and were taken to Straub Medical Center’s burn unit, he said. The others were taken to other Honolulu hospitals.
At least 20 patients were taken to Maui Memorial Medical Center, he said.
Straub’s Burn Unit is treating three burn patients from Maui who are in critical condition, Hawaii Pacific Health said.
The victims’ identities and injuries were not disclosed.
Residents of Launiupoko Estates off of Punakea Loop are being advised to evacuate immediately. Shelters are open at the Maui Prep Academy in Napili.
Maui County officials, meanwhile, say firefighting efforts continue in Lahaina, Pulehu, and Upcountry, but there have been no changes in containments of this morning.
Crews battled a fire that burned multiple structures and brush in Lahaina, with four helicopters launched this morning to assist in the firefighting efforts.
Officials said improving weather conditions allowed for the helicopters, including ones from the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy, to launch this morning after being hampered by gusts up to 80 mph on Tuesday.
More than 2,100 people were housed overnight in four emergency shelters that were set up at Maui Preparatory Academy in Napili, Maui High School in Kahului, War Memorial Center and Hannibal Tavares Community Center in Pukalani.
Kihei residents evacuated last night were cleared to return to their homes shortly after 6 a.m. today, according to officials. Firefighters continue fighting a Pulehu fire mauka of Kihei.
Evacuees at the Maui Preparatory Academy shelter were notified to leave to go to Kaanapali hotels to gather their belongings and evacuate Lahaina through Kahakuloa.
The Coast Guard now reports it rescued 14 people from the ocean off Lahaina on Tuesday, including two young children who were reunited with family.
Lahaina remains without telephone service, either by landline or cell phone.
People trying to locate loved ones impacted by the fires can call the American Red Cross hotline at 1-800-733-2767.
Hawaii’s congressional delegation is urging President Joe Biden to act swiftly to make all federal resources available and approve any request for a presidential disaster declaration for Maui and Hawaii counties, which are reeling from destructive wildfires.
“We request your help to expedite all federal assistance possible to help the state recover from devastating fires in Maui and Hawai‘i counties,” U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie K. Hirono and U.S. Reps. Ed Case and Jill Tokuda wrote in a letter to Biden today. “Communities in both counties will need substantial support to recover from fires that are devastating some of the State’s most iconic cultural and economic centers,” the delegation wrote in their urgent letter to President Biden.
“In particular, we request your urgent attention on the following items to assist with the response on Maui and Hawai‘i counties:
>> Issuing a federal disaster declaration upon the request of the State to enable FEMA emergency response and recovery programs; and
>> Exercise of your Title 32 authority upon the request of the State to allow federal payment for the mobilization of the HI-ANG to respond to and recover from the fires.”
The delegation said the declaration will help ensure that the affected communities can access important federal funding and resources to recover.
Maui County officials said Kahului Airport remains open.
Police at this time are allowing traffic out of Lahaina through the bypass. Those seeking flights off the island can reach Kahului Airport using the bypass and Kahekili Highway.
Many airlines are offering travel waivers and vouchers during the emergency period.
Maui County officials said 911 service in West Maui is not available. For emergencies, people should call the Lahaina Police Department directly at 808-661-4441.
The Maui Department of Waters Supply, meanwhile is requesting that consumers islandwide conserve water in an effort to reduce demand and extend existing supplies until the situation can safely be assessed.
That includes refraining from washing cars, washing down sidewalks and driveways and watering lawns, among other measures.
Maui County officials said evacuees at Maui Preparatory Academy have been “notified to leave to access hotels along Kaanapali Parkway to gather belongings and evacuate Lahaina through Kahakuloa.”
Acting Gov. Sylvia Luke issued an emergency proclamation today to extend the state of emergency to all counties, discourage non-essential air travel to Maui, and order all affected state agencies to assist with the evacuation, the governor’s office said today.
“This is an unprecedented disaster as an indirect result of Hurricane Dora passing just south of our islands,” Luke, who is acting governor while Gov. Josh Green is traveling, said in a statement. “It is truly devastating and my heart goes out to the residents of Maui and all those impacted.”
In a separate news release, the governor’s office said Green will be returning today from his travels to deal with the emergency. He said, “Heroic efforts by first responders have prevented many casualties from occurring, but some loss of life is expected.”
As the wildfires continue, visitors with current and planned lodging at West Maui hotels may not have accommodations, state officials said.
“This proclamation is to discourage travel to the affected areas so we can prioritize our scarce resources for Maui residents who desperately need assistance,” Luke said.
The proclamation encourages visitors in West Maui to depart the island as soon as safe and practicable.
Green said, “The wind-fueled fires have devastated many of our communities and people will be looking to our office for leadership while we address the ongoing emergency and do what we can as a state to rebuild lives,” Green said in the statement.
“We have suffered a terrible disaster in the form of a wildfire that has spread widely as a result of hurricane-force winds in the region and underlying drought conditions. Maui and the Big Island both experienced significant fires. Much of Lahaina on Maui has been destroyed and hundreds of local families have been displaced,” he said.
He said he has named Adjutant General Ken Hara as the state incident commander, and the Hawaii National Guard has mobilized and is being supported by FEMA.
“The White House has been incredibly supportive and we expect to submit a request for a Presidential Disaster Declaration in the next 36 to 48 hours, once we know how vast the damage is,” Green said. “Our state appreciates the incredible outpouring of concern and prayers from the mainland. We won’t forget the aloha you have already begun to share with us.”
Green had been scheduled to return to Hawaii from personal travel on Aug. 15, but will be back in the state tonight to address the crisis, his office said.
A massive wind-swept wildfire, one of many across two islands, swept through Lahaina town, forcing large-scale evacuations, burning homes and businesses, and leading to the rescue of a dozen people who fled into the ocean to escape the flames and heavy smoke that has destroyed much of historic Front Street.
In addition to Lahaina, major fires in Kula and Kihei, led to evacuations in those Maui communities Tuesday. Roads and schools were closed today as firefighters and other first responders struggle to keep up with the unprecedented disaster.
The state Department of Transportation said about 1,800 people sheltered in place overnight at the Kahului Airport, and many west-side highways were closed. “HDOT worked with airlines/TSA to shelter passengers for safety’s sake as wildfires continue to burn in Lahaina and upcountry,’ DOT tweeted this morning.
Southwest Airlines said early today it had 1,000 seats available for people trying to leave the island. Hawaiian Airlines said it has a travel waiver in place and customers can receive a refund or change travel to a future date without a penalty.
Four shelters were open on the Valley Island including Maui High School, the Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center, Maui Preparatory Academy, and War Memorial Gym. The quick-moving brushfires forced two other shelters to relocate. The Lahaina Civic Center shelter was moved Tuesday night to Maui Prep in Napili-Honokowai “to place evacuees away from impacted Lahaina town,” the Maui Fire Department said, and residents at the Kihei Community Center evacuation site were relocated to Maui High “as a precautionary measure.”
Hawaii island was also dealing with major brushfires and shelters remained open today at Waimea Community Center and Hisaoka Gym on the island. Hawaii Fire Department said today crews continue to battle three fires in North and South Kohala.
As the fires raged out of control Tuesday night, Maui County tweeted that multiple roads in Lahaina were closed with a warning: “Do NOT go to Lahaina town.”
In Lahaina, the U.S. Coast Guard responded to areas where people went into the ocean to escape the fire and smoky conditions Tuesday. The Coast Guard tweeted that a crew rescued 12 people from the water off Lahaina.
After 6 a.m. today, Maui County said evacuated Kihei residents were clear to return to their homes.
>> PHOTOS: High winds from Hurricane Dora fuel wildfires
Alan Dickar said he’s not sure what remains of his Vintage European Posters gallery, which was a fixture on Front Street in Lahaina for 23 years. Before evacuating with three friends and two cats, Dickar recorded video of flames engulfing the main strip of shops and restaurants frequented by tourists.
“Every significant thing I owned burned down today,” he said. “I’ll be OK. I got out safely.”
Dickar, who assumed the three homes he owns burned down, said it will take a heroic effort to rebuild what has burned in Lahaina, which is home to about 13,000 people.
“Everyone who comes to Maui, the one place that everybody goes is Front Street,” he said. “The central two blocks is the economic heart of this island, and I don’t know what’s left.”
The National Weather Service said Hurricane Dora, which was passing to the south of the island chain at a safe distance of 500 miles, was partly to blame for gusts above 60 mph that knocked out power as night fell, rattled homes and grounded firefighting helicopters. Dangerous fire conditions created by strong winds and low humidity were expected to last through Wednesday afternoon, the weather service said.
Acting Gov. Sylvia Luke issued an emergency proclamation on behalf of Gov. Josh Green, who is traveling, and activated the Hawaii National Guard.
Luke said today the fires have been “so devastating to watch.”
One emergency proclamation was declared Tuesday and a second one was declared today, extending the emergency to all counties.
The state wants to discourage non-essential travel to Maui amid the fires, Luke told Hawaii News Now this morning. Tourists on the island are encouraged to go home as soon as feasible and visitors scheduled to arrive on Maui are encouraged not to come, she said.
State officials are meeting with major airlines, including Hawaiian, Southwest, United and Alaska, to build support for this plan, Luke said. Today’s emergency proclamation will support that effort, she said.
It was too windy for some firefighting aircraft to take off Tuesday, hampering firefighting efforts, Luke said. She had no estimate of the number of structures or acres lost to the fires.
Shelter spaces were constantly changing. About 2,000 people sheltered in place at Maui’s main airport, which officials are trying to clear so that the airport is better able to handle departing passengers.
She could not estimate when the fires might be under control. “We’ve never dealt with fires of this magnitude.” Initially, officials thought the fires on the Big Island might be worse, but the Lahaina fire erupted fiercely.
Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen also issued an emergency proclamation Tuesday in response to the ongoing Maui fires.
On Hawaii island, fire has threatened about 200 homes in and around Kohala Ranch, which has a population of more than 500. The fire was also threatening a volunteer fire department, local electrical transmission lines, and an AT&T cellular communications tower in the area, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency officials said.
The fire was not contained and had burned more than 600 acres when the state made the request was made, officials said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, meanwhile, approved Hawaii’s request for a disaster declaration to provide assistance with the wildfire on Hawaii island, HI-EMA officials said.
The decision under the Fire Management Assistance Grant program allows for federal reimbursement of up to 75% of the eligible firefighting costs.
“We’re grateful to our federal partners for their quick review and decision, which will help Hawaii County meet this challenge in Kohala,” said HI-EMA Administrator James Barros in a statement.
Fire was widespread in Lahaina, including on Front Street, an area of the town of roughly 13,000 that is popular with tourists, county spokesperson Mahina Martin said by phone early today. Traffic has been very heavy as people try to evacuate, and officials asked people who weren’t in an evacuation area to shelter in place to avoid adding to the traffic, she said. Photos posted by the county overnight showed a line of flames blazing across an intersection in Lahaina and flames leaping above buildings in the town, whose historic district is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Officials were not aware of any deaths and knew of one first-responder injury, a firefighter who was in stable condition at a hospital after experiencing smoke inhalation, Martin said.
Honolulu Emergency Medical Services officials said nine patients were transported to Oahu, three with serious burn victims.
There’s no count available for the number of structures affected by the fires or the number of people affected by evacuations, but Martin said at the four Maui shelters open had over 1,000 people at the largest.
“This is so unprecedented,” Martin said, noting that multiple districts were affected. An emergency in the night is terrifying, she said, and the darkness makes it hard to gauge the extent of the damage.
“Right now it is all-hands-on-deck and we are anxious for daybreak,” she said.
Cell phone towers around Lahaina had reportedly burned and landlines were also down.
In West Maui 911 service was not available and residents were directed to call the police department.
Because of the wind gusts, helicopters weren’t able to dump water on the fires from the sky — or gauge more precise fire sizes — and firefighters were encountering roads blocked by downed trees and power lines as they worked the inland fires, Martin said.
About 14,500 customers in Maui were without power early today, according to poweroutage.us.
“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,” Martin said.
Winds were recorded at 80 mph in inland Maui and one fire that was believed to be contained earlier Tuesday flared up hours later with the big winds, she added.
“The fire can be a mile or more from your house, but in a minute or two, it can be at your house,” Fire Assistant Chief Jeff Giesea said.
In the Kula, Maui, at least two homes were destroyed in a fire that engulfed about 1.7 square miles, Bissen said. About 80 people were evacuated from 40 homes, he said.
“We’re trying to protect homes in the community,” Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth said of evacuating about 400 homes in four communities in the northern part of the island. As of Tuesday, the roof of one house caught on fire, he said.
On Maui, all public schools, except Hana High & Elementary, were closed today. In addition to the public school closures, Kamehameha Schools Maui and Aapueo Preschool will also remain closed Wednesday.