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10 Aug, 2023 16:46

36 killed in Hawaii wildfires (VIDEOS)

The flames destroyed hundreds of buildings in a matter of hours
36 killed in Hawaii wildfires (VIDEOS)

At least 36 people have died as wildfires ravaged the Hawaiian island of Maui on Wednesday, local authorities said. More than 10,000 people were evacuated, as some desperate tourists jumped into the ocean to escape the devastation.

Multiple brush fires began burning on the island on Tuesday, spreading rapidly as they were fanned by winds from Hurricane Dora hundreds of miles to the south. Within a matter of hours, the fires had advanced across western Maui, with one destroying the historic oceanside town of Lahaina and forcing those trapped in its path to dive into the waters of the Pacific Ocean to escape the flames.

By Wednesday evening, Maui County authorities said that 36 people had been killed and 11,000 evacuated from the island. At least 271 buildings were damaged, and witnesses told the Associated Press that boats moored in Lahaina’s harbor were set alight. 

Photos and videos from the city show charred trees, scorched houses, burned out cars, and a thick layer of ash blanketing the normally bustling streets and boardwalks.

More than a dozen people who fled into the ocean were picked up by US Coast Guard patrols. Search and rescue efforts continued in Lahaina on Thursday, Maui County authorities said, while the US Indo-Pacific Command said that army and navy helicopters have been deployed to the area to assist.

While the cause of the brush fires has not yet been identified, local officials suggested that a combination of dry conditions, low humidity and high winds helped accelerate their spread and amplify the damage. Hawaii typically experiences summer wildfires, although ecologist Lisa Ellsworth told the Washington Post that the growth of non-native flammable grasses has made the threat more severe in recent years. 

Winds are expected to decrease across Hawaii on Thursday, as Hurricane Dora moves further away from the archipelago. However, it may take far longer for normal life to resume in Maui. “These were small businesses that invested in Maui. These were local residents. We need to figure out a way to help a lot of people in the next several years,” Hawaii Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke said on Wednesday.