A massive fire engulfed parts of Maui, Hawaii on Wednesday, leaving a historical town severely damaged and compelling residents to flee into the sea. The tragedy led to the death of at least six individuals, injuring many and resulting in the destruction or damage of 271 buildings.
The fire raged on through the afternoon, exacerbated by powerful winds due to the nearby Hurricane Dora. Local authorities were apprehensive that the death toll might increase.
Maui Mayor Richard Bissen expressed profound sadness, emphasizing the magnitude of the tragedy. With the winds receding slightly, aircraft were deployed to gauge the full impact of the destruction. Overhead footage of Lahaina town, taken by the U.S. Civil Air Patrol and Maui Fire Department, revealed the scale of devastation.
The videos showed numerous residences and businesses flattened in Lahaina, including popular tourist locales. Smoke billowed from the ruins, many boats were damaged, and a haze hung over trees that had been burnt bare.
Richard Olsten, a veteran helicopter pilot, described the scene as unprecedentedly horrifying. The acting Governor, Sylvia Luke, highlighted the obliteration of communities and cautioned travelers to steer clear of the area.
The local administration encouraged tourists to vacate Lahaina and began coordinating mass transportation to help evacuate people to the airport. Communication lines and power were disrupted in West Maui.
Factors like strong winds, decreased humidity, and arid vegetation were considered as possible contributors to the fire. Additionally, climate change experts linked rising global temperatures to increased vegetation dryness, which could aggravate such disasters.
Lahaina’s town center, a heritage site dating back to the 1700s, was rapidly consumed by the flames. Residents recounted their harrowing experiences of the swiftly approaching fire, with some barely escaping its reach.
Multiple fire outbreaks were reported across Maui, including in Kihei and the Upcountry regions. On Hawaii’s Big Island, no major losses were reported, though there were a few incidents of fires on roofs.
Hurricane Dora’s influence was palpable, with powerful gusts causing power outages and hindering airborne firefighting efforts. In a bid to evade the inferno, 14 individuals, inclusive of two children, were rescued from the sea by the Coast Guard.
Medical facilities received numerous casualties, with critical patients being airlifted for specialized care. In light of the crisis, an emergency proclamation was issued, mobilizing the Hawaii National Guard.
President Joe Biden pledged federal assistance, with military forces, including the Coast Guard, Navy, and Marines, stepping in to help. Shelters across Maui housed thousands, with provisions made for tourists and locals at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu.
Prominent figures, including former President Barack Obama, expressed their sympathy, highlighting the significant loss faced by the local community. Residents of Lahaina, while a tourist hotspot, emphasized its deep-rooted Hawaiian heritage. Many lamented the irreversible loss of cherished memories, homes, and life as they knew it.