Posted on 8/9/23 AT 11:48 AM
Wildfires whipped up by strong winds continue to rage in Maui, Hawaii, as residents seek shelter and authorities instruct citizens to avoid numerous areas and roadways.
It is thought that the fires have been caused by a mix of hot and dry conditions, in a similar way to previous wildfires that spread across the Southwest U.S. and have also caused damage in Europe and Canada. An 80,000-acre wildfire spread across California and Nevada in early August, while a wildfire near Phoenix destroyed almost 2,000 acres in June and led to more than 1,000 residents being evacuated.
Mahina Martin, chief of communications and public affairs for the island of Maui, told Newsweek via phone on Wednesday morning that three fires remain active.
“None of them are contained,” Martin said. “The magnitude of the fires and the fast moving swiftness of the fires have caused evacuations in all three areas throughout yesterday and overnight.”
There are four shelters for citizens who have evacuated their residences. One of them is already at capacity with 1,200 people, while the other three are occupied with hundreds.
The Kahului Airport is also sheltering people at its facility, including about 2,000 visitors who had their flights either canceled or delayed, or arrived with nowhere to go.
There have been no reports of fatalities, Martin added. There has been one recorded injury related to a firefighter who suffered from smoke inhalation and was transferred to a local hospital in stable condition.
On Wednesday, the Maui Fire Department advised the immediate evacuation of residents of Holopuni and Pulehu roads in Kula, and subdivisions north and south of Lipoa Parkway to Maui Meadows and Ohukai subdivision in Kihei, according to the Maui Emergency Management Agency.
A high-wind warning from the agency was canceled on Wednesday, replaced with a wind advisory that could impact portions of Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui and the Big Island.
East-northeast winds could reach speeds of 25 to 35 mph, with gusts estimated at about 50 mph. Winds that strong can tear off roof shingles, knock down trees, blow away tents and awnings, and make it difficult for vehicles to steer.
Martin said that wind was a big factor in the island slopes on Tuesday, when reported winds reached as high as 80 mph.
“We’re anxious to see what daylight brings,” Martin said. “We’re expecting pretty heavy devastation out there.”
In light of the steering difficulties, the agency advised drivers to avoid numerous roadways in and around Maui. They also advised surfers and swimmers to stay out of the ocean due to winds causing strong currents and high waves, saying, “When in doubt, don’t go out.”
The wind advisory is in effect until 6 p.m. local time.
“Wind speeds will continue to trend lower today [Wednesday] and tomorrow [Thursday] as the high-pressure center north of the islands and Hurricane Dora currently south of the state continue to move westward,” the agency said in a Facebook post.
Newsweek reached out to the agency via phone and email for additional information.
The Maui Humane Society, located in Puunene, has posted multiple times on Facebook about preparing its kennels and keeping its animals safe as the situation unfolds. Staff and volunteers remain on standby.
“As of now [8 a.m. Tuesday], Maui Humane Society does not need public assistance,” it posted on Facebook. “We will keep you posted. Please help your friends and family in Upcountry! Additionally, if you have not prepared an emergency bag for your pets, please do so!”
Newsweek reached out to the humane society via phone and email for additional information.
The fires have not impacted wildlife so far.
“Currently, none of the fires are burning into lands under the jurisdiction of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which would largely be higher-elevation forest lands,” Dan Dennison, spokesperson for the Hawaii DNR, told Newsweek via email. “Thus, no reported impacts to wildlife at this time.”