Wildfires take Maui by surprise in Hawaii

Wailuku, Hawaii: The sky was dark from smoke and flames were racing through the historic Hawaiian town of Lahaina when Kamuela Kawaakoa got back to his apartment after a quick dash to the supermarket for water. He, his girlfriend Iiulia Yasso, and their 6-year-old son grabbed a change of clothes and ran as the bushes around them caught fire.

At least six people were killed when wildfires, whipped by strong winds from Hurricane Dora passing far to the south, took the island of Maui by surprise, leaving behind burned-out cars on once busy streets and smoking piles of rubble where historic buildings had stood. Flames roared throughout the night, forcing adults and children to dive into the ocean for safety.

Officials said 271 structures were damaged or destroyed and dozens of people injured. They feared the death toll could rise.

As Kawaakoa and Yasso fled, a senior center erupted in flames. They called 911, but didn’t know if the people got out. Fire alarms blared. As they drove away Tuesday afternoon, downed utility poles and fleeing cars slowed their progress.

On Wednesday, crews were continuing to battle blazes in several places on the island. Authorities urged visitors to stay away.

The fires were the latest in a series of problems caused by extreme weather around the globe this summer. Experts say climate change is increasing the likelihood of such events.

As winds eased somewhat on Maui, some flights resumed Wednesday, allowing pilots to view the full scope of the devastation. Aerial video from Lahaina showed dozens of homes and businesses razed, including on Front Street, where tourists once gathered to shop and dine. Smoking heaps of rubble lay piled high next to the waterfront, boats in the harbor were scorched, and gray smoke hovered over the leafless skeletons of charred trees.

“It’s horrifying. I’ve flown here 52 years and I’ve never seen anything come close to that,” said Richard Olsten, a helicopter pilot for a tour company. “We had tears in our eyes.”

Image courtesy of Times Union

Share this post