A wildfire on the Hawaiian island of Maui has destroyed much of the historic town of Lahaina, sending residents and tourists fleeing into the water to escape the flames on Tuesday.
Dubbed the worst natural disaster to hit the islands since Hurricane Iniki in 1992, the wildfire devastated homes and businesses throughout the historic town that once served as the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Powerful winds combined with dry conditions and low humidity have impeded efforts to fight the blaze, CBS News reported. (RELATED: Yosemite Fires Fire Threatens America’s Oldest Sequoia Trees)
Wildfire has engulfed businesses on Front Street in downtown Lahaina in West Maui, home to 12,000 people.
The Coast Guard is responding to people who were forced to go into the ocean due to the flames.
Video credit to Alan Dickar, a local resident of Lahaina. pic.twitter.com/8uiyHQP55B
— Colin McCarthy (@US_Stormwatch) August 9, 2023
“It’s just so hard. I’m currently Upcountry and just knowing I can’t get a hold of any of my family members. I still don’t know where my little brother is. I don’t know where my stepdad is,” Lahaina resident Tiare Lawrence told the outlet. “Everyone I know in Lahaina, their homes have burned down.”
Wind gusts were reported in some areas to be nearly 80 mph, downing power lines and trees, CBS News reported. As flames engulfed Lahaina, firefighters were also battling another fire in the inland, mountainous region of the island. As of around 8:00 a.m. (eastern time), over 14,000 Hawaiians were without power, according to PowerOutage.us.
“It’s definitely one of the more challenging days for our island given that it’s multiple fires, multiple evacuations in the different district areas,” County of Maui spokesperson Mahina Martin told CBS News.
At least six deaths have been confirmed, but rescue operations are still underway making it highly possible that the number of casualties may increase, the New York Times reported, citing Richard T. Bissen, Jr., the mayor of Maui County.
“Lahaina has been devastated,” Clint Hansen of Maui Real Estate Radio told CNN. “People jumping in the ocean to escape the flames, being rescued by the Coast Guard. All boat owners are being asked to rescue people. It’s apocalyptic.”