A wildfire in Lahaina, Maui, kills at least six people, destroys buildings and forces residents to flee. The governor declares a state of emergency. A massive fire ravaged Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii on Wednesday, August 9, 2023, killing at least six people and injuring many others.
The fire, believed to have been caused by human activity, spread quickly in windy and dry conditions and reached the historic center of the city, which is a popular tourist spot with shops and restaurants.
The fire destroyed hundreds of buildings, some dating back to the 18th century. It also forced some residents to flee into the ocean to escape the flames and smoke.
County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. said they are still trying to figure out how and where the six people died. He said he was in “search and rescue mode” and that the death toll could rise.
Governor Josh Green also said he expected some loss of life as a result of the fire. Many people were injured by burns or smoke inhalation and taken to hospitals on Maui or Oahu.
Hawaii Life Flight’s regional director said six patients were flown to Oahu Tuesday night, three of them in critical condition.
A firefighter was also hospitalized with smoke inhalation but was stabilized. The fire was exacerbated by strong winds from Hurricane Dora, which was passing about 500 miles south of Hawaii but brought gusts of up to 60 miles per hour to the island.
People watch as smoke and flames fill the air from raging fires on Front Street in downtown Lahaina, Maui, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. Maui officials say a wildfire in the historic town has burned parts of one of Hawaii’s most popular tourist areas. Maui County spokeswoman Mahina Martin said in a phone interview early Wednesday morning in Lahaina, including Front Street, an area popular with tourists, there were fires.
The National Weather Service said the wind made it difficult for firefighters to control the blaze and blew embers into new areas. The island also suffered from drought, which made the vegetation more prone to burning.
Hawaii has seen a 400 percent increase in the average area burned by wildfires in the past century, due in part to climate change and the invasion of non-native grasses that provide fuel for the fires.
More than 2,100 people were displaced by the fire and sought shelter in evacuation centers or at Kahului Airport, where 2,000 stranded passengers were being accommodated after their flights were canceled or delayed.