Hawaii wildfires continue to spread across Maui island as evacuations ordered for thousands of people amid widespread destruction
Wildfires in the Hawaiian island of Maui have killed at least 36 people and injured three – with the historic town of Lahania entirely destroyed – as 270 structures are either damaged or destroyed across the island.
At least 100 firefighters are attempting to tackle the blazes, which prove difficult to contain due to high winds from Hurricane Dora, and evacuations have been ordered on Wednesday for residents in several areas of the island. Around 25 public schools have been closed, with one high school turned into a temporary emergency shelter.
Parts of Maui are without the ability to contact 911 or other emergency services, as communication is severed due to lack of power for thousands of people.
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Other residents have resorted to jumping into the sea to escape the flames from the wildfires, with 14 people rescued from the ocean – including two children – according to the Coast Guard.
Officials have warned that the changing winds and humidity, coupled with challenging terrain and slopes, make it difficult to predict where the wildfire will spread to next.
‘The fire can be a mile or more from your house, but in a minute or two, it can be at your house,’ said Fire Assistant Chief Jeff Giesea. ‘Burning airborne materials can light fires a great distance away from the main body of fire.’
What caused the wildfires?
The wildfires began in Maui after a combination of strong winds, low humidity and dry vegetation, according to a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Honolulu, Robert Bohlin.
Drought-like conditions have also exacerbated the wildfires, with trade winds weaker than usual, causing vegetation to dry – and consequently becoming easier to ignite – and less rain on the island, Bohlin continued.
Wildfires are also on Hawaii’s Big Island – although no reports of injuries or destroyed homes have emerged, said Mayor Mitch Roth.
‘It will be a long road to recovery,’ said Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor, Sylvia Luke.