14 people who sheltered from Maui wildfire in the ocean rescued by Coast Guard

With a wildfire fueled by winds from a passing hurricane destroying the Maui town of Lahaina, 14 people escaped the flames and smoke by heading to the ocean, officials said Wednesday.

Maui County confirmed on Thursday that 36 people died in the fire, as authorities said more than 11,000 had been evacuated from the island, with more expected to leave.

Follow live coverage of the Maui wildfires

Earlier, the Coast Guard said Wednesday the 14 people were rescued from a breakwall by Lahaina harbor Tuesday evening, after boats and aircraft were sent to help.

The reports to the Coast Guard “regarding multiple persons in the water needing rescue after taking shelter from fire and smoke in Lahaina” prompted the dispatch of a cutter, a 45-foot boat, and helicopters, the agency said.

In this photo provided by Brantin Stevens smoke fill the air from wild fires at Lahaina harbor on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023 in Hawaii. Fire was widespread in Lahaina Town, including on Front Street, a popular shopping and dining area, County of Maui spokesperson Mahina Martin said by phone early Wednesday. Traffic has been very heavy as people try to evacuate the area, and officials asked people who weren’t in an evacuation area to shelter in place to avoid adding to the traffic, she said. (Brantin Stevens via AP)

The reports came in around 5:45 p.m.

The harbor, and the community of around 12,700 people, suffered widespread damage in the wildfire, which officials say was fueled — along with two other fires on Maui — in part by winds from the passing Hurricane Dora.

Dora, a Category 4 storm, passed far to the south of Maui and the rest of the state. But wind gusts on Maui Tuesday and Wednesday were in the 50 and 60 mph range, according to the National Weather Service.

At least six people have died, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said at a news conference Wednesday. More than 271 structures in the Lahaina area have been impacted, the county government said.

The 14 people who were rescued were in stable condition, the Coast Guard said.

“On behalf of the U.S. Coast Guard, I wish to convey my sincere condolences to the communities who have been tragically affected by the fires in Maui," Capt. Aja L. Kirksey, sector commander of Coast Guard Sector Honolulu, said in a statement.

The Coast Guard is still on the scene assisting, the maritime military branch said. The Navy as well as the National Guard have also been deployed to assist, officials said.

President Joe Biden pledged the help of all federal assets available in the state, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has also been assisting, according to the White House and FEMA's administrator.

"We've suffered a terrible tragedy," Gov. Josh Green said in a video on social media Wednesday. Green was out of state for a family reunion but was rushing back to Hawaii after the fires.

He said the state will be asking for a presidential disaster declaration, which allows for more federal assistance, as soon as the scope of the damage is fully known. He said much of Lahaina has been destroyed.

In helicopter video taken by Air Maui Helicopter Tours in Lahaina and posted online the people aboard are largely speechless. "Oh my gosh," someone aboard says.

Maui County has called the wildfires a crisis, and asked all visitors to leave Lahaina and Maui as soon as possible.

The fires were fueled by drought as well as high winds, Green said. He said firefighters "were working heroically" to put out the fires and as winds subside that task could be easier.

"Heroic efforts by first responders have prevented many casualties from occurring," Green tweeted.

He encouraged residents to be supportive of their neighbors who have needs after the tragedy, no matter where in the state they may be.

"We're all in this together. Thank you for caring for one another," Green said in Wednesday's video.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com