At least 36 people have been confirmed dead after windswept wildfires ravaged parts of Hawaii’s Big Island and neighboring Maui. The fires, which began on Tuesday, destroyed swaths of land, forcing residents from their businesses and homes. According to officials, thousands of people have been displaced.
What’s the latest?
On Wednesday evening, Maui County officials said 36 people were discovered amid the “active fire” in the historic town of Lahaina. “We are still in a search-and-rescue mode, so I don’t know what will happen to that number,” Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. said during a news conference on Wednesday.
Sen. Brian Schatz said the centuries-old town was “almost totally burnt to the ground.” Acting Gov. Sylvia Luke said communities had been “wiped out” after emergency services struggled to contain the fires. In Maui alone, over 270 structures have been damaged so far. “These were small businesses that invested in Maui,” she said. “These were local residents. We need to figure out a way to help a lot of people in the next several years. The road to recovery will be long.”
Read more on Yahoo News:
Maui County officials said that 11,000 people have been evacuated from the island so far, with many more expected to leave. Since Wednesday, hospitals have been overwhelmed with burn victims and those suffering from smoke inhalation, including one firefighter. Landline and cellphone service remain cut for residents of West Maui, leaving them unable to contact emergency services.
Tourists have been asked to leave the affected areas of Maui as soon as possible. For those without cars, bus evacuations were organized outside of hotel resorts bringing tourists straight to Kahului Airport. The Department of Transportation has been working with local airlines to evacuate all tourists from the affected areas of Maui, the White House said in a statement.
At least 10 schools on the island have closed following the continued spread of brush fires, while one, located in Central Maui, remains open as an evacuation shelter. According to PowerOutage.us, more than 12,000 in Hawaii are still without electricity.
What has the White House said?
In a statement released on Wednesday night, President Biden ordered all available federal assets in Hawaii to help battle the wildfires. The Army and the Hawaiian National Guard have mobilized helicopters to help with “fire suppression” on the Big Island and Maui. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard and the Navy have been supporting evacuations and rescue efforts.
“I urge all residents to continue to follow evacuation orders, listen to the instructions of first responders and officials and stay alert,” Biden said.
What caused the wildfires?
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the wildfires, but Honolulu meteorologist Jeff Powell said they were sparked “kind of because of Hurricane Dora, but it’s not a direct result.”
Hurricane Dora, which passed western Johnston Island on Wednesday, traveled 700 miles south of Honolulu and created winds of 130 mph on Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The National Weather Service warned of wind speeds as high as 60 mph and alerted those in the affected areas to expect power outages and difficulty traveling. The NWS said that “very dry conditions” and “potentially damaging easterly winds” would continue the “dangerous fire weather conditions” into Wednesday afternoon. “The fire can be a mile or more from your house, but in a minute or two, it can be at your house,” Maui County Fire Assistant Chief Jeff Giesea said.
“The fact that we have wildfires in multiple areas as a result of indirectly from a hurricane is unprecedented; it’s something that Hawaii residents and the state have not experienced,” Luke said.