Maui mayor says 6 people are dead in devastating Hawaii wildfires. Follow along for live updates The Denver Post

By REBECCA BOONE (Associated Press)

Follow along for live updates of wildfires that are racing across part of Maui in Hawaii, destroying sections of a historic town on the island and forcing some to flee to the relative safety of the ocean, where the Coast Guard rescued them. The fires forced evacuations in some areas, including the popular tourist spot of Lahaina Town. The National Weather Service says Hurricane Dora, which is passing south of the island chain at a safe distance, was partly to blame for strong winds driving the flames, knocking out power and grounding firefighting helicopters.

At least six people have been killed in wildfires that have raced across parts of Maui, Mayor Richard Bissen said.

Bissen confirmed the deaths during a press conference Wednesday, but did not provide details, such as where the people were when they died.

Three separate wildfires have been burning on the Hawaiian island of Maui, including one that destroyed much of the historic town of Lahaina. The fires prompted 13 evacuations, Bissen said. Just one road was open for fleeing Lahaina residents.

Officials have released very little information about the scope of damage caused by the wildfires, but satellite images from NASA appeared to show active flames throughout much of the historic town of Lahaina. Another Maui wildfire was burning near the town of Kihei.

The satellite images seemed to support some videos and photos posted to social media sites that showed flames roaring through the town and burned-down buildings.

Alan Dickar’s Vintage European Posters gallery has been fixture on Front Street in Lahaina for 23 years. But he watched the wildfires engulf the main strip of shops on Tuesday, and now is not sure what is left of his gallery. Front Street is popular with tourists, and Dickar said it was the “economic heart of this island.”

Dickar snapped video of the black skies and roaring flames before evacuating with three friends and two cats. Dickar is now in the rainforests of Haiku after evacuating to Maui Meadows and having to escape again because of the threat of wildfires Tuesday.

“Every significant thing I owned burned down today,” he said. “I’ll be OK. I got out safely.”

Some residents are already thinking about next steps. Kekai Keahi was in New Mexico dropping off his son at college when he found out the fire had destroyed his Lahaina community.

“There is no Lahaina,” he said. “Lahaina no exist anymore.”

His son won’t stay in New Mexico, and he will go back to Maui with him Wednesday.

“He gotta,” Keahi said. “We have to rebuild.”

Keahi, who is a teacher at Lahaina Intermediate School, helped build many homes in Lahaina. “I’m pretty sure we’ll pull together and rebuild. But I don’t know how many years it will take us to rebuild,” he said.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green, who was scheduled to return to Hawaii from personal travel on Aug. 15, instead planned to return immediately, his office said Wednesday. He was expected to be back Wednesday evening.

Green has been in contact with the White House, and is preparing to request emergency federal assistance sometime in the next two days, once he has a better idea of the damage, his office said in a news release.

Hundreds of families have been displaced and much of Lahaina on Maui has been destroyed, Green said in the statement.

“Heroic efforts by first responders have prevented many casualties from occurring, but some loss of life is expected,” he said. “Our entire emergency response team, including the Hawai‘i National Guard has mobilized and is being supported by FEMA.”

With power outages and cellular service and phone lines down in some areas, many people are struggling to check in with friends and family members living near the wildfires. Some posted messages on Facebook, Reddit and other sites hoping the social media grapevine would bring word of their loved ones.

Tiare Lawrence, who grew up in Lahaina, was frantically trying to reach her siblings Wednesday morning as winds whipped the island. They live in a residential area of Lahaina, near where a gas station exploded, Lawrence said.

“There’s no service so we can’t get ahold of anyone,” she said from the upcountry Maui community of Pukalani. “We’re still having hurricane-force winds.”

Her home was serving as a refuge for 14 cousins and uncles who fled the heat, smoke and flames in Lahaina.

“It was apocalyptic from what they explained,” she said.

Lahaina is often thought of as just a tourist town, but has “a very strong Hawaiian community,” Lawrence said.

“I’m just heartbroken. Everywhere, our memories,” she said. “Everyone’s homes. Everyone’s lives have tragically changed in the last 12 hours.”

The County of Maui and other local government officials turned to Facebook and Twitter to warn residents that the 911 system was down on parts of the island, and that they should call police departments directly if needed.

Several burn patients from Maui were being treated at Straub Medical Center, the hospital said in a statement. The facility has the only specialized burn unit in Hawaii.

The Honolulu Emergency Services Department transported one woman in her 60s from Maui to the burn center, said department spokesperson Shayne Enright. The woman was in critical condition.

The department has also received reports of multiple patients being flown from Maui to Honolulu, Enright said.

The high winds that fanned wildfires on both Maui and the Big Island slowed Wednesday morning, gusting between 35-50 mph, a said Tina Stall, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu.

The highest winds Tuesday on the Big Island peaked at 82 mph and on Maui they hit 62 mph.

The winds were caused by a high pressure system common to Hawaii, which produces the trade winds; and Hurricane Dora passing safely south of the islands. “It’s kind of squeezing things in between, so that’s what’s been causing the winds,” Stall said. The winds will continue to diminish through the day Wednesday and should reach normal levels overnight as both systems move west of Hawaii, she said.

There was little chance of rain to help firefighters Wednesday, she said. Western Maui is mostly in a moderate drought, while the Big Island has some level of drought, with the northern part of that island considered abnormally dry, Stall said.

An estimated 2,000 travelers, some newly arrived and others from canceled flights, were sheltering at Kahului Airport on Maui early Wednesday morning, the county announced on Facebook. Officials were discouraging non-essential travel, and some airlines were offering free rescheduling for people who planned to travel to Maui in the next few days.


Associated Press journalist Mark Thiessen contributed to this story from Anchorage, Alaska; Christopher Weber contributed from Los Angeles; Audrey McAvoy, Clair Rush and Jennifer Kelleher from Honolulu; and Caleb Jones from Concord, Massachusetts.

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