(NEW YORK) — Dangerous wildfires are spreading rapidly on Maui due to very dry conditions stemming from a drought combined with powerful trade winds being squeezed across Hawaii.
At least 36 people have died from the wildfires on Maui and much of the coastal town of Lahaina has been “destroyed,” according to officials. A state of emergency has been declared for the whole island, while all nonessential travel to the popular vacation destination is being discouraged, officials said.
The Big Island of Hawaii has also been affected by wildfires.
The winds are being caused by a strong high pressure system to the north and a strong low pressure system — Hurricane Dora — well to the south.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Aug 10, 3:43 PM EDT
Survivor jumped into water to escape flames: ‘It seemed like I might drown’
Shawn Dougherty is recovering from burn injuries at a shelter set up at the War Memorial Gym in Maui after jumping into water to escape from the flames.
Dougherty told ABC News the “first sign of peril” on Tuesday was when a tree in his backyard snapped from strong wind gusts. When a house in his Lahaina neighborhood started to fill with smoke, he and his girlfriend drove toward the harbor, where businesses were on fire.
He and his girlfriend ended up leaving their car and jumping in the water to escape the flames. Dougherty said he got cuts and bruises from getting knocked against the rocks and coral.
“At one point, it seemed like I might drown,” he said. “I’m a good swimmer, but the water was just really rough because of the wind and the turbulence.”
They had to temporarily swim away from the rock wall because of the intense heat from the fires, he said. A first responder eventually told them to get out of the water because “it’s not going to get any better,” so he and his girlfriend took the chance and climbed out.
“I couldn’t even make it across the street because the pavement was so hot. And now I have second degree burns on the bottom of my feet,” Dougherty said.
Dougherty said he had difficulties walking due to his burns and lost track of his girlfriend after getting out of the water. He ended up waiting in the water and on the rock wall until firefighters carried him to a truck and ultimately brought him to a hospital for treatment.
He’s been at the shelter since Wednesday morning and hasn’t been able to get ahold of his girlfriend since.
“I’ve got to find a way to procure a phone so I can start making contacts with people and find my beautiful girlfriend,” he said. “I’m so scared.”
-ABC News’ Izzy Alvarez
Aug 10, 1:12 PM EDT
Biden approves Hawaii emergency disaster declaration
President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration in Hawaii and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by wildfires.
The declaration unlocked grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property loses and other programs to help residents and business owners recover from the wildfires. It also unlocks federal funding for state and eligible local governments for debris removal and emergency protective measures in Maui and assistance for emergency protective measures for Hawaii County.
Biden also spoke with Hawaii Gov. Josh Green about the wildfires to express his condolences for the lives lost and the vast destruction of land and property.
“President Biden confirmed he signed a Major Disaster Declaration for Hawaii that will deliver additional federal resources and support on top of the actions already underway by FEMA, the National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other federal agencies to support the emergency response,” the White House said in a statement.
-ABC News’ Molly Nagle
Aug 10, 12:31 PM EDT
United cancels inbound flights to Kahului Airport, as airlines add extra flights from Maui
In the aftermath of the Hawaii wildfires, airlines flying to Maui have added extra flights to take people off the island. United Airlines canceled Thursday’s inbound flights to Kahului Airport so planes can fly empty and be used as passenger flights back to the mainland.
Other airlines told ABC News they are continuing their scheduled operations and have issued waivers or flexible travel policies.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it is monitoring the fires and winds, but operations remain normal. According to FlightAware, 14 flights at Kahului Airport have been canceled and 18 are delayed.
-ABC News’ Clara McMichael
Aug 10, 11:21 AM EDT
Chaos at Maui’s main airport as hundreds try to leave
Hundreds of people spent the night at the Kahului Airport on Maui, after local authorities asked everyone who does not need to be on the island to leave amid raging wildfires.
Many raced to the airport on Wednesday only to find out that their flights had been canceled or delayed. So, they slept there on the ground, on baggage carts and on X-ray machines — whatever they could find that was relatively comfortable.
Some people told ABC News that they are hoping to fly out on Thursday. Others said they were informed by airlines that they won’t be able to get on flights until the weekend.
One mother told ABC News that she has rented a car that she will sleep in with her two young children for the next two days. But that, she said with a tear in her eye, is nothing compared to losing your house or the life of a loved one.
Aug 10, 10:46 AM EDT
Hawaii governor to tour wildfire damage on Maui
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green is scheduled to arrive in Maui early Thursday.
Green is expected to hold a joint press conference with Maui Mayor Richard Bissen after touring the wildfire damage.
Aug 10, 8:01 AM EDT
3 wildfires remain active, uncontained on Maui
There are three active wildfires burning on Maui as of Thursday morning, according to Maui County spokesperson Mahina Martin.
Martin told ABC News that those fires are still not contained, though improved weather conditions have helped the situation.
There was no update for the number of acres that the blazes have burned. The Kula fire was a little over 1,000 acres as of early Wednesday.
-ABC News’ Alyssa Pone
Aug 10, 6:41 AM EDT
Latest wind forecast for Hawaii
The National Weather Service has canceled all high wind and red flag warning alerts for Hawaii as wind speeds are expected to decrease slightly on Thursday.
But wind gusts are still forecast to get up to 25 to 35 miles per hour, which will not help the fight to contain raging wildfires on Maui.
Over the last few days, winds have gusted to as high as 82 mph in parts of Hawaii. In Maui County, wind speeds got up to 67 mph.
This is due to very strong trade winds and the increased pressure gradient between the high pressure to the north of Hawaii and Hurricane Dora to the south.
Dora never hit Hawaii, only coming as close as 700 miles to the south. So the winds are not due to Dora but rather the pressure gradient effect.
-ABC News’ Max Golembo
Aug 10, 4:35 AM EDT
Death toll rises to 36 on Maui
At least 36 people have died as wildfires tear through the Hawaiian island of Maui, according to officials.
During a press conference early Thursday, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen confirmed that the death toll is “growing.”
“We knew of six earlier. We are probably around 36 as of now,” Bissen said.
Maui County also confirmed in a statement late Wednesday that “36 total fatalities have been discovered today”
-ABC News’ Alyssa Pone
Aug 09, 11:15 PM EDT
More than 271 structures impacted
Authorities say more than 271 structures have been impacted, as fires continue to burn into early evening local time.
A federal team has arrived on the island to assist in search and rescue efforts in Lahaina, Maui County said Wednesday.
Close to 100 Maui firefighters have been on duty around the clock, including 11 from the state airport, the county said. The Maui Fire Department has reached out for additional support, requesting 20 more firefighters from Honolulu, Oahu and an incident management team.
Firefighters are addressing spot fires in Lahaina. Two Chinooks, along with four Windward Aviation helicopters, have been battling all three fires with water drops. Three additional helicopters from the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy have conducted search and rescue along the West Maui coastline, the county said.
The Maui FD reported no significant changes for the Lahaina, Upcountry and Pūlehu fires as of the afternoon local time.
There are no new evacuations, however, motorists are prohibited from entering Lahaina while the fire is active, with police on hand to prevent entry into the area. Residents who are still in Lahaina have been advised they can evacuate via Kahakuloa.
Aug 09, 9:37 PM EDT
FEMA approves disaster relief as wildfires rage, thousands without power
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved Hawaii’s request for a disaster declaration for help with a wildfire on Kohala Ranch on the Big Island of Hawaii, according to Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency.
Around 200 homes in and near Kohala Ranch have been impacted by the fires that began on Tuesday, the state’s emergency management agency said in a press release.
“The fire was also threatening a volunteer fire department, local electrical transmission lines and an AT&T cellular communications tower in the area,” Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency said.
There are 12,400 customers without power, according to Hawaiian Electric. The company is working to get some power restored.
Aug 09, 7:30 PM EDT
Helicopter pilot on Maui devastation
When helicopter pilot Richard Olsten flew above Lahaina, Maui, on Wednesday, he said he was not prepared for what he saw.
“It was heartbreaking,” Olsten told ABC News Live. “There’s hundreds of homes burned down to the ground. The entire area of Front Street, the whole historic area, is gone, burned to the ground.”
“We were just speechless with one another as we viewed this horrible destruction of the town,” Olsten said.
Aug 09, 7:27 PM EDT
Latest from airlines
So far on Wednesday, there have been 17 cancellations and 46 delays at Kahului Airport (OGG) in Maui, according to FlightAware.
Delta Air Lines said it anticipates operating a full schedule out of Maui on Wednesday, adding two more flights to help accommodate customers from flights canceled the day before.
American Airlines said it canceled all flights to Kahului Airport on Wednesday but expects to operate the majority of flights out of the airport “to ensure customers evacuating OGG are able to do so.”
The Federal Aviation Administration said earlier it’s monitoring the wildfire and winds in Hawaii, but operations remain normal. A spokesperson said that, if necessary, the agency will take steps to manage the flow of traffic safely into areas that experience reduced visibility from wildfire smoke.
-ABC News’ Amanda Maile
Aug 09, 6:47 PM EDT
‘I was trapped’: Maui fire survivors speak out
A Maui resident recounted escaping from his burning home in an interview with ABC News’ Gio Benitez on Wednesday.
“We started smelling the smoke, and that’s when we knew we had trouble,” Steve Scott said. “It came, and it came quick.”
Scott said he tried to fight the fire with a hose before managing to flee.
“I was trapped,” he said. “We had to run to the harbor.”
Scott said the loss is “horrible,” especially along Front Street in downtown Lahaina, just as the tourist-driven area started to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t know if we can recover from this,” he said.
Aug 09, 6:43 PM EDT
Biden on wildfire response
President Joe Biden and the first lady said they are sending condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones in the Maui wildfires.
In a statement Wednesday evening, Biden said he has ordered “all available Federal assets on the Islands to help with response” and is urging “all residents to continue to follow evacuation orders, listen to the instructions of first responders and officials, and stay alert.”
-ABC News’ Justin Gomez
Aug 09, 4:43 PM EDT
‘Our beautiful island has been ravaged by fires’
Maui Chamber of Commerce President Pamela Tumpap detailed the level of devastation in a phone interview with ABC News Live.
“Our beautiful island has been ravaged by fires from the mountain to the ocean,” Tumpap said.
Tumpap said some areas look like they have been “completely leveled.”
“We’ve lost a lot of homes and we’ve lost a lot of business places and we’ve lost cultural and historic resources that were in the Chinatown that have burned to the ground,” Tumpap said. “We are seeing fires unlike what we’ve ever seen before.”
Tumpap cautioned travelers against coming to the island, saying it is “not going to be the Maui vacation that you planned” and visitors will have a hard time finding resources.
Aug 09, 4:20 PM EDT
At least 6 deaths reported in Maui, mayor says
There have been at least six deaths reported in Maui County amid devastating wildfires, officials said.
“We’re still in a search and rescue mode, and so I don’t know what will happen to that number,” Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said during a press briefing Wednesday afternoon.
More than 2,100 people are in shelters in Maui County, he said.
Shelters are “overrun” amid the disaster, Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke said while urging tourists not to travel there.
“This is not a safe place to be,” she said.
Aug 09, 4:01 PM EDT
Mother evacuates in middle of the night with 2 children
Maui resident Malika Dudley described to ABC News Live her experience evacuating from the raging wildfires in Hawaii with her two children in the middle of the night.
Currently in Haliimaile, which is on the slopes of Haleakalā, Dudley can still see the fire from the mountain growing and spreading.
“We were in the very first evacuation at 1 a.m.. I started to smell smoke in my home, and I woke my husband up and he said, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it.’ At 1:30, I thought, ‘No, something’s on fire in our house.'”
Eventually, Dudley, who is also a meteorologist for ABC affiliate KITV, got a call from their neighbor and the fire was right above their property.
“We got a call from our neighbor who said, ‘Get out of your house.’ And we looked out the window and there was a red glow outside of our window,” she said. “The fire was right above our property.”
Aug 09, 3:50 PM EDT
Hawaii governor: ‘Some loss of life is expected’
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green warned “some loss of life is expected” amid the wildfires.
“Heroic efforts by first responders have prevented many casualties from occurring, but some loss of life is expected,” Green said in a statement Wednesday. “Our entire emergency response team, including the Hawai‘i National Guard has mobilized and is being supported by FEMA.”
Green will be returning to the islands immediately due to the wildfire emergency, his office announced.
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