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36 killed as wind-driven wildfire rages through Maui, Hawaii

The Coast Guard has responded to some areas where residents have entered the ocean to avoid smoke and fire conditions.
Hawaii residents flee wildfires as strong winds fuel the outbreak
Posted at 10:28 AM, Aug 09, 2023

Wildfires scorching Hawaii have killed 36 people, authorities in the state said Wednesday, and prompted evacuations in several communities as firefighters struggled to combat the wind-fueled flames that have burned several structures and caused widespread power outages.

Fire crews in Maui County were battling several blazes Tuesday as winds from Hurricane Dora, which is traveling about 500 miles south of the islands, toppled power lines and grounded firefighting helicopters. 

The fires devastated large swaths of one of Hawaii's most popular tourist areas in historic Lahaina. Phone service and 911 lines are also reportedly down in western Maui after fires disrupted cell towers there.

Roads were closed across much of Maui on Wednesday.

"Because of the conditions last night, the high winds and the fire, we really don't have all of the details of exactly how many structures were damaged. But we do know power's out; we're having problems with water," said Major General Kenneth Hara, Adjutant General for the State of Hawaii, at a Wednesday afternoon conference.

Hara said military helicopters have been detailed to fire suppression, and National Guardsmen are performing search and rescue and traffic control.

SEE MORE: US tackles firefighter shortage as wildfires rage across North America

The state's acting governor has issued a state of emergency on behalf of Gov. Josh Green, who is traveling and plans to return to the state by the end of Wednesday.

State leadership is coordinating with federal agencies to plan a response. Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke said officials are in contact with FEMA and receiving support. 

"When we are preparing for a hurricane, we expect rain. Sometimes we expect floods," Luke said at a Wednesday press conference. "We never anticipated in this state that a hurricane, which did not make impact on our islands, will cause this type of wildfire."

In a statement on Wednesday, President Joe Biden said he had "ordered all available Federal assets on the Islands to help with response," including aircraft and personnel from the Hawaii National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marines. 

The state's largest electric provider said about 13,000 customers in Maui were without power Tuesday night after winds gusting over 60 mph toppled trees and power lines. As of Wednesday morning, that number was bumped up to 14,500, according to poweroutage.us.

The Coast Guard has responded to some areas where residents have entered the ocean to flee the smoke and fire conditions, according to the Maui County mayor's office. One firefighter responding to a fire in West Maui was also taken to the hospital due to smoke inhalation.

Tourists have been asked to reschedule or reroute their travels to avoid Maui.  More than 100 flights are scheduled to leave Maui on Wednesday.

Gen. Hara said the National Guard is arranging transport logistics to help visitors reach temporary shelter at a convention center on Oahu.

The National Weather Service issued high wind and red flag warnings, but conditions were expected to improve throughout the day Wednesday and into Thursday. 


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