Hawaii wildfires destroy homes and force thousands to evacuate amid strong winds

Wildfires rage across Maui and Oahu

Wildfires in Hawaii fanned by strong winds have burned multiple structures, forced evacuations and caused power outages in several communities late Tuesday as firefighters struggled to reach some areas that were cut off by downed trees and power lines. The National Weather Service said Hurricane Dora, which was passing to the south of the island chain at a safe distance of 500 miles, was partly to blame for gusts above 60 mph that knocked out power as night fell, rattled homes and grounded firefighting helicopters.

Hawaii wildfires destroy

Acting Governor Sylvia Luke issued an emergency proclamation on behalf of Gov. Josh Green, who is traveling, and activated the Hawaii National Guard. Fire crews on Maui were battling multiple blazes concentrated in two areas: the popular tourist destination of West Maui and an inland, mountainous region. It wasn’t immediately known how many buildings had burned, County of Maui spokesperson Mahina Martin said in a phone interview late Tuesday.

Because of the wind gusts, helicopters weren’t able to dump water on the fires from the sky — or gauge more precise fire sizes — and firefighters were encountering roads blocked by downed trees and power lines as they worked the inland fires, Martin said. About 13,000 customers in Maui were without power, Hawaiian Electric reported Tuesday night.

“It’s definitely one of the more challenging days for our island given that it’s multiple fires, multiple evacuations in the different district areas,” Martin said. Winds were recorded at 80 mph in inland Maui and one fire that was believed to be contained earlier Tuesday flared up hours later with the big winds, she added.

“The fire can be a mile or more from your house, but in a minute or two, it can be at your house,” Fire Assistant Chief Jeff Giesea said.

Hurricane Dora complicates firefighting efforts

Hurricane Dora was complicating matters for firefighters in an already dry season. Hawaii is sandwiched between high-pressure to the north and a low-pressure system associated with Dora, said Jeff Powell, a meteorologist in Honolulu. The dryness and the gusts “make a dangerous fire situation so that fires that do exist can spread out of control very rapidly,” he said.

“It’s kind of because of Hurricane Dora, but it’s not a direct result,” he said, calling the fires a “peripheral result” of the hurricane’s winds.

In the Kula area of Maui, at least two homes were destroyed in a fire that engulfed about 1,100 acres, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said. He urged residents to heed evacuation orders and stay away from the fire zones.

“We’re asking people to please cooperate with us,” he said. “We don’t want to have any fatalities or injuries.”

On Oahu, the state’s most populous island, firefighters were battling a fast-moving brush fire that burned about 500 acres near Makakilo and Kapolei. The fire prompted mandatory evacuations for about 1,000 residents and voluntary evacuations for another 2,000, according to Honolulu Fire Department spokesperson Capt. Jeffrey Roache.

Roache said the fire was driven by strong winds that made it difficult to contain. He said firefighters were using bulldozers and helicopters to create fire breaks and protect homes.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep it away from structures,” he said.

Residents cope with power outages and road closures

The wildfires also caused widespread power outages and road closures on both islands. Hawaiian Electric said about 50,000 customers on Oahu and 13,000 on Maui were without electricity as of Tuesday night. The utility company said it was working to restore service as quickly as possible but warned that some areas may be without power for an extended period.

“We know this is a very difficult situation for our customers and we appreciate their patience and understanding,” Hawaiian Electric spokesperson Shannon Tangonan said.

The power outages also affected traffic signals and street lights, creating hazardous driving conditions. The Hawaii Department of Transportation advised motorists to avoid unnecessary travel and use caution on the roads.

Several major highways and roads were closed due to the fires or fallen trees and debris. The Maui Police Department said it was responding to multiple reports of accidents and stranded motorists. The department urged residents to stay home unless absolutely necessary.

“We are asking for everyone’s cooperation at this time,” the department said in a statement. “Please do not go sightseeing or attempt to enter any closed areas.”

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