LAHAINA, Hawaii — (AP) — Scouring through the aftermath of Maui’s wildfire on Thursday, it was heart-wrenching to see once lively areas now turned to ash. The death count hit 53, and those lucky to escape shared their close-call stories, many leaving just with their clothes.
Flying over Lahaina, once a bright and bustling place, all you could see was grey ash. Everywhere you looked, buildings were gone, replaced by their charred foundations.
This includes the beloved Front Street, where just a few days earlier, people were shopping and grabbing a bite. The boats docked at the harbor? Burned. And a smoky haze lingered over Lahaina, a town that’s stood since the 1700s and is a prime spot on Maui’s west coast.
“Lahaina, with a few rare exceptions, has been burned down,” shared Hawaii’s Gov. Josh Green with The Associated Press. He mentioned that over 1,000 buildings were wiped out by fires, and they’re still not out.
The recent disaster in the state has become the deadliest since a 1960 tsunami. As rescuers continue their operations, the death count is expected to climb. Green shared, “We are heartsick”
The disaster took many businesses with it. Among them was the Whaler’s Locker gift shop. The owner, Tiffany Winn, described a scene with burnt cars and remains. ” It looked like they were trying to get out, but were stuck in traffic and couldn’t get off Front Street” she remarked. With most landmarks destroyed, she couldn’t recognize her surroundings.
Dry conditions and hurricane winds ignited the fire, catching Maui off guard. By Thursday, 53 were confirmed dead, making it the worst wildfire in the U.S. since California’s 2018 Camp Fire. But this number may grow as rescuers push further into the island. Many have suffered injuries.
Adam Weintraub from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency stated, ” We are still in life preservation mode. Search and rescue is still a primary concern.” Access to some fire areas remains unsafe.
In the chaos, some residents barely had moments to react. Videos show entire streets in flames. Among those escaping was Marlon Vasquez, who recalled the imminent danger: ” I opened the door, and the
fire was almost on top of us. We ran and ran. We ran almost the whole night and into the next day, because the fire didn’t stop.”
Others, like Lahaina’s Kawaakoa and Yasso, had narrow escapes. They dialed 911 upon seeing a senior living facility go up in flames. Vierra’s 97-year-old great-grandma was there, and her whereabouts remain unknown. “We’re desperate for information, but there’s none,” Vierra said.
Phone lines are down, making communication challenging. Tourists are urged to leave. With 11,000 already departed, more are expected.
In Kihei, flames raged, the scene illuminated by glowing embers. Hurricane Dora’s winds intensified the fires, a testament to the growing climate crisis and extreme weather events.
While wildfires aren’t rare in Hawaii, recent conditions set the stage for a calamity, commented Professor Smith of the London School of Economics.
The Big Island is also battling fires, though with no reported casualties or property damage yet.
As people tried to reach loved ones, many turned to social media. An assistance center was set up in Kahului for those seeking the missing.
Maj. Gen. Hara emphasized restoring communication and aid distribution. The Coast Guard reported 14 rescues of individuals who tried to evade the flames by jumping into the water.
Investigations into the fire’s cause are pending, but President Biden has declared a disaster in Maui,