Deadly wildfires burning across Maui prompt evacuations

By Aditi Sangal, Eric Levenson, Elise Hammond, Tori B. Powell, Maureen Chowdhury, Amir Vera, Adrienne Vogt and Elizabeth Wolfe, CNN

Updated 10:37 a.m. ET, August 10, 2023
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3:18 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

"Some loss of life is expected" from wildfires, Hawaii governor says

From CNN’s Angelica Grimaldi and Cheri Mossburg

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said he anticipates some deaths as wildfires affect the island of Maui.

"Heroic efforts by first responders have prevented many casualties from occurring, but some loss of life is expected," he said in a statement on Wednesday.  

“We have suffered a terrible disaster in the form of a wildfire that has spread widely as a result of hurricane-force winds in the region and underlying drought conditions. Maui and the Big Island both experienced significant fires. Much of Lāhainā on Maui has been destroyed and hundreds of local families have been displaced,” said Green, who is cutting a vacation short and returning to the state immediately. 

Green, who expects to be back in Hawaii later tonight, said he intends to submit a disaster declaration request to President Joe Biden once a preliminary damage assessment is made, likely in the next day or two. 

“Our state appreciates the incredible outpouring of concern and prayers from the mainland. We won’t forget the aloha you have already begun to share with us,” Green said.

2:20 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

Drought in Hawaii contributing to fire spread

From CNN’s Rachel Ramirez

Hawaii’s destructive wildfires are being fanned by a combination of strong wind and dry conditions that are blanketing vast swaths of the island.

While scientists are still trying to fully understand how the climate crisis will affect Hawaii, they have noted that drought will get worse as global temperature increases.

Currently, Maui has moderate drought covering more than one-third of the island, with some areas seeing severe drought, according to the US Drought Monitor. The areas in drought coincide with where some of the fires are occurring.

Warmer temperatures increase the amount of water the atmosphere can absorb, which then dries out the landscape. As heat sets in, the dried-out land and vegetation can provide fuel for wildfires, which can swiftly turn deadly if strong winds help fan the flames into communities.

According to the 4th US National Climate Assessment, released in 2018, drought conditions are becoming more extreme and common in Hawaii and other Pacific Islands. Scientists noted in that report that the rainfall has generally been decreasing in Hawaii over time, with the number of consecutive dry days increasing.

Global scientists reported in 2021 that because of the climate crisis, droughts that may have occurred only once every decade or so now happen 70% more frequently.

3:16 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

WATCH: Satellite shows strong winds fanning Hawaii fires

From CNN meteorologist Mary Gilbert

NOAA/CIRA/RAMMB
NOAA/CIRA/RAMMB

Satellite imagery captured just how quickly Hawaii’s wildfires spread on Tuesday afternoon and evening as strong winds blew from the northeast.

Imagery from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows fire hotspots — which appear as glowing red circle — developed on Maui’s northwestern shore and in the higher terrain near the center of the island.

The hotspot that shows up brightest on the far west side of Maui is a massive, destructive fire burning through historic Lahaina.

A large plume of dark smoke unfurls in the area of the fire near the end of the satellite loop as strong winds blow the smoke westward, away from Maui and over Lanai.

2:05 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

Hawaii predicted to have above-average fire risk for next 4 months, agency says

Hawaii was predicted to have an above-average risk for fire in August — and that higher risk will remain in place for the next several months, according to a national collaborative agency.

The National Interagency Fire Center forecasts that Hawaii will be at the above-average mark for the remainder of August, plus into September, October and November. 

The NIFC collaborates with national and state wildland fire agencies to help coordinate fire management and support firefighting efforts, according to its website.

Much of Maui County, where some of the fires are burning, is experiencing a moderate drought, according to the US Drought Monitor. High winds associated with Hurricane Dora, which is located hundreds of miles southwest of Honolulu, are also helping to fan the flames across the dry landscape, experts say.

1:50 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

As fires in Hawaii force evacuations, here's what to do if you get trapped by a wildfire

From CNN's Holly Yan

Evacuations are underway across Hawaii’s Big Island and Maui as several different wildfires rage across the islands.

Strong winds are helping to fan the fires, affecting the speed and direction of the infernos.

The Maui County Fire Department is urging people to prepare their homes for wildfires if they have the opportunity. Officials recommend clearing out combustibles within 30 feet of houses and sweeping vegetation and debris from the gutters and roof, according to a post. It's also important to have a clear evacuation plan and to make sure hydrants and water tasks are accessible, the fire department said.

If you find yourself caught in a wildfire, here are some things you can do to try to protect yourself, according to tips from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

In your car:

  • Park your vehicle in an area clear of vegetation.
  • Close all vehicle windows and vents.
  • If you have a cotton or wool blanket or jacket, cover yourself with it t deflect radiant heat.
  • Lie on the floor of your vehicle.

At home:

  • Fill sinks and tubs to stock up on water if the power goes out.
  • Keep doors and windows closed but unlocked.
  • Stay inside your house.
  • Stay away from outside walls and windows.

Outside:

  • Try to find a place free from vegetation, such as a ditch or depression on level ground.
  • Lie face down and cover your body to minimize smoke inhalation.

1:23 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

Non-essential travel is being strongly discouraged on Maui as airport shelters 1,800 travelers

From CNN’s Eli Masket, Ross Levitt and Caroll Alvarado

Maui's Kahului Airport is sheltering approximately 1,800 travelers from “canceled flights and flight arrivals,” according to a social media post from the Hawaii Department of Transportation. 

The department said in the post that it “worked with airlines/TSA to shelter passengers for safety's sake as wildfires continue to burn in Lahaina and upcountry.” 

The state of Hawaii is discouraging any non-essential travel to the island of Maui because of the fires, Hawaiian Airlines told CNN in a statement.

While flight-tracking site FlightAware only shows two cancellations so far Wednesday at Kahului, along with 13 delays — or about 9% of departing flights — there are concerns that smoke from the wildfires could disrupt more flights.

Norma Pascua Simon, who works at Kahului Airport, told CNN that several travelers had no other choice but to sleep on airport grounds Tuesday night after their flights were canceled or delayed.

“I passed by the area after the TSA checkpoint and saw a lot of passengers gathered by the grassy area,” Simon told CNN. “Everyone was trying to find a spot where they could sleep because their flights were canceled.”

12:11 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

Airlines assist travelers in changing their Maui plans

From CNN's Pete Muntean

Major airlines are helping passengers rebook trips due to the Hawaii wildfires.

Hawaiian Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines are waiving change fees for trips to and from Kahului Airport on the island of Maui.

Hawaii is "discouraging non-essential travel to Kahului, and we are supporting our guests with flexible options to change their flights,” Hawaiian Airlines said in a statement to CNN. “The safety of our guests and employees, including teammates who live and work on Maui, is our priority, and we will continue to support the state with its ongoing response.”

More than 120 commercial flights are scheduled to depart from the two-runway airport Wednesday, with only six Maui flights canceled in the last 24 hours, FlightAware data shows. Kahului Airport is served by 10 airlines in total, including Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines.

11:57 a.m. ET, August 9, 2023

Biden monitoring Hawaii wildfires, White House says

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

President Joe Biden is monitoring the wildfires in Hawaii, a White House official said Wednesday. The official added that the White House has been in contact with state and local officials.

The official did not weigh in on whether the president was considering sending more federal aid to help the state.

3:16 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

Heavy road closures announced as Maui fires rage

From CNN’s Eli Masket

This photo provided by County of Maui shows fire and smoke filling the sky from wildfires in Maui, Hawaii on Tuesday.
This photo provided by County of Maui shows fire and smoke filling the sky from wildfires in Maui, Hawaii on Tuesday. Zeke Kalua/County of Maui/AP

Maui County officials closed all roads to public use in the town of Lahaina as the fires on the island continue to spread.

West Maui is also closed off to all traffic, according to an update from Maui County. Only emergency personnel will be allowed into that part of the island.

Evacuations continue to be issued across Maui, and a county press release said that an evacuation site had to be moved to “place evacuees away from impacted Lahaina town.”

Lahaina is a census-designated place with a population of just under 13,000 people as of 2020. Lahaina resident Alan Dickar earlier posted video of several buildings on fire along Front Street, a popular thoroughfare in the area.