Wildfires hit Hawaii, forcing thousands to evacuate 

Wildfires on Maui, Hawaii struck the historic Lahaina Town on Tuesday and Wednesday, leaving at least six dead and more than twenty injured.

Entire blocks of the popular tourist destination were found burned down Wednesday morning. Photos posted overnight showed the flames raging around buildings in the historic town center, many of which date back to the 1700s.

Fire crews have been battling multiple blazes on the island of Maui since Tuesday. The rapid spread of the fires has forced more than 2,000 to evacuate, and caused Acting Governor Sylvia Luke to issue an emergency proclamation and activate the Hawaii National Guard.

Many panicked residents initially fled into the ocean to escape the fire, with the Coast Guard rescuing 14 people on Tuesday, including two children, according to a statement by Maui County. Several burn patients have also been flown out to Straub Medical Center in Honolulu, which hosts the state’s only specialized burn center.

Emergency responses are complicated by seasonal dryness and nearby Hurricane Dora. While the Category 4 storm is at a safe distance 500 miles south of the islands, the pressure gradient between it and a high-pressure system north of the islands has been blamed for the up to 60 mph gusts which have grounded firefighting helicopters and contributed to power outages affecting about 12,000 Maui residents, according to a Hawaiian Electric report.

Without helicopters providing aerial water dumping or precise spotting of the fires and obstacles, fire crews on the ground are having a more challenging time combatting the flames. The winds also caused a previously contained fire to flare up again in inland Maui.

Three fires are also burning on Hawaii’s Big Island, though there have been no reports of injury or damage to homes.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green, who was previously traveling, is expected to return Wednesday evening, cutting personal travel plans short. His office stated in a news release that he is prepared to request federal assistance within the next two days.

(Photo by Alan Dickar | AP)


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