At least 46 individuals have tragically lost their lives in the wake of wildfires that ravaged a significant portion of Lahaina, the resort city on Hawaii’s Maui island. The Maui County issued a statement late on Wednesday disclosing the extent of the devastation, attributing the blazes to winds generated by a distant hurricane.
This catastrophe left multiple neighborhoods reduced to ashes, primarily affecting the western side of the island. With only one open highway and extensive evacuation efforts underway, officials detailed the widespread devastation inflicted upon Lahaina, its harbor, and the adjacent regions.
In a desperate bid to escape the encroaching smoke and flames, some residents sought refuge in the ocean. Mason Jarvi, a Lahaina inhabitant who managed to flee the city, described the dire situation, saying, “We just experienced the worst disaster I’ve ever witnessed. The entire Lahaina area has been consumed by fire. It resembles an apocalyptic scene.” Jarvi shared photos of the charred aftermath along the Lahaina waterfront with Reuters. Additionally, he displayed blisters on his thigh, a result of riding his electric bike through flames to save his dog.
Aerial footage displayed columns of smoke ascending from numerous sections of Lahaina, the primary tourist hub on Maui and home to several prominent hotels. Helicopter pilot Richard Olsten remarked, “The area looks as though it was subjected to a bombing. It’s akin to a war zone,” as reported by Hawaii News Now.
With firefighting teams grappling with three significant infernos, the western region of Maui was effectively closed off to everyone except emergency personnel and evacuees. Over 271 structures sustained damage or were razed, according to official reports from flyovers conducted by the U.S. Civil Air Patrol and the Maui Fire Department, as reported by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
The fires, which ignited on Tuesday night, also scorched parts of the Big Island of Hawaii, with thousands of acres engulfed in flames.
Late on Wednesday, Ed Sniffen from the Hawaii Department of Transportation announced the evacuation of more than 11,000 travelers from Maui. Despite the closure of at least 16 roads, the Maui airport was operational, and airlines were reducing fares and offering waivers to facilitate the departure of individuals from the island. This update came earlier in the day.
Panic-stricken evacuees took to social media to share images of once-pristine beaches and palm trees enveloped in billowing clouds of smoke.
Dustin Johnson, who was at Lahaina Harbor working for a charter boat company offering two-hour tours, recounted his experience during the crisis: “I was the last one off the dock when the firestorm came through the banyan trees and took everything with it. And I just ran out and helped everyone I could along the way.” Johnson shared this account from Kahului Airport, normally a 25-minute drive east of Lahaina.
The intensity of the smoke and fire drove some individuals to leap into the Pacific Ocean, prompting the U.S. Coast Guard to initiate rescue operations, as detailed in a press release from Maui County.