At least 6 dead as Maui wildfires overwhelm hospitals, sever 911 services and force people to flee into the ocean | CNN (2023)


At least six people have died as a result of the fires raging on Maui, the island’s mayor, Richard Bissen Jr., said at a Wednesday news conference.

“I’m sad to report that just before coming on this, it was confirmed we’ve had 6 fatalities,” he said. “We are still in a search and rescue mode.”

Several people are also unaccounted for, Bissen added. He did not offer further details about the deaths.

The wildfires torching the idyllic Hawaiian island are raging out of control, but the true scope of devastation remains unknown.

That’s because the infernos have knocked out cell service, hindered emergency communications and trapped residents and tourists on the island, is home to about 117,000.

“Local people have lost everything,” said James Kunane Tokioka, the state’s business, economic development and tourism director, at the news conference. “They’ve lost their house, they’ve lost their animals and it’s devastating.”

The fires are so catastrophic, some people have hurled themselves into the ocean to escape the flames. And Hawaii’s governor, who was on a personal trip this week, said he was rushing back to the state Wednesday.

Videos show the fire burning in Lahaina, Maui County on Tuesday as a resident evacuates. Jayson Duque documented on his Instagram stories what he witnessed of the fire burning in Lahaina. He told CNN that he evacuated with his family to the south side of the island. Jayson Duque Hurricane-fueled wildfires trigger evacuations in Maui

“Heroic efforts by first responders have prevented many casualties from occurring, but some loss of life is expected,” Gov. Josh Green said in a statement Wednesday.

But even emergency crews might not be able to help everyone who needs it. The wildfires – fueled in part by Hurricane Dora churning some 800 miles away – have cut off 911 service and other communications in many parts of Maui.

“911 is down. Cell service is down. Phone service is down,” Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke told CNN on Wednesday morning.

“Our hospital system on Maui, they are overburdened with burn patients, people suffering from inhalation,” she said. “The reality is that we need to fly people out of Maui to give them burn support because Maui hospital cannot do extensive burn treatment.”

Flames are seen at the intersection of Hokiokio Place and Lahaina Bypass in Maui, Hawaii, on Tuesday night. Zeke Kalua/County of Maui Why cell phone service is down in Maui — and when it could be restored

The disaster also has wiped out power to about 14,000 homes and businesses in Maui, according to

Tourists are being discouraged from going to Maui, Luke told reporters Wednesday.

“Today we signed another emergency proclamation which will discourage tourists from going to Maui,” she said. “Even as of this morning, planes were landing on Maui with tourists. This is not a safe place to be.”

In certain parts of the island, there are shelters that are overrun, Luke added: “We have resources that are being taxed.”

Hawaii isn’t the only US state grappling with devastating wildfires – a trend some experts had predicted for this season. Parts of Texas are under a critical fire risk Wednesday, a day after a brush fire engulfed an apartment building in the Austin area.

But the crisis unfolding in Maui is extraordinary, Hawaii’s lieutenant governor said.

“We never anticipated in this state that a hurricane which did not make impact on our islands, will cause this type of wildfires,” Luke told reporters at Wednesday’s news conference. “Wildfires that wiped out communities, wildfires that wiped out businesses, wildfires that destroyed homes.”

A harrowing escape to a rainforest

Alan Dickar just learned one of his rental properties went up in flames when he saw an economic hub of Maui get swallowed by wildfire.

At least 6 dead as Maui wildfires overwhelm hospitals, sever 911 services and force people to flee into the ocean | CNN (3)

Flames shoot toward the sky Tuesday night at the intersection of Hokiokio Place and Lahaina Bypass in Maui, Hawaii.

“Front Street exploded in flame,” Dickar told CNN Wednesday.

Dickar, who has lived in the area for 24 years, said there was little time to flee.

“I grabbed some people I saw on the street who didn’t seem to have a good plan. And I had told them, ‘Get your stuff, get in my truck,’” he said.

“And there’s only one road that leads out of Lahaina, so obviously it was backed up,” Dickar said. “I dropped everybody else off and then I went to a place in another part of Maui that’s far away. And as soon as I got there, that whole area had to evacuate because of a totally different fire. … Just as I arrived, that whole area got evacuated.”

Dickar eventually fled to a remote part of Maui. “I figured that was enough, and I’m safe here at least from a fire evacuation because it’s a rainforest,” he said.

Clint Hansen took drone video Tuesday night that showed wildfires spreading just north of Kihei.

At least 6 dead as Maui wildfires overwhelm hospitals, sever 911 services and force people to flee into the ocean | CNN (4)

Clint Hansen shot this footage of catastrophic blazes on the island of Maui.

“Lahaina has been devastated,” Hansen 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.”

Live Updates: Wildfires burn in Maui, prompting rescues in Lahaina

A dozen people were rescued near Lahaina after “entering the ocean due to smoke and fire conditions,” the Coast Guard and county officials said. “Individuals were transported by the Coast Guard to safe areas,” Maui County officials said.

And it’s not clear where the disaster will head next.

Maui fire officials warned that erratic wind, challenging terrain, steep slopes and dropping humidity, plus the direction and the location of the fire conditions make it difficult to predict path and speed of a wildfire, according to Maui County officials.

“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. “Burning airborne materials can light fires a great distance away from the main body of fire.”

Lost communications and stranded tourists

State officials are working with hotels and a local airline to try to evacuate tourists to another island, Luke said. But severed communications have hindered efforts to reach everyone.

CNN video A hurricane is fueling wildfires in Hawaii. Meteorologist explains how

“Resorts and visitors and commercial districts have lost communication due to downed cell towers and landlines that only work within very local areas. “As a result, 911 service is currently down,” said Mahina Martin, chief communications officer from Maui Emergency Management Agency.

Maui County officials have not been able to communicate with many people on the west side – including those in the Lahaina area, Luke said.

Satellite phones have been the only reliable way to get in touch with some areas, including hotels, the lieutenant governor said.

“What we are trying to do is deploy individuals to go into areas with satellite phone service. We have only been in contact with perhaps one hotel because the one hotel, the people in charge of that hotel have satellite phones,” Luke said Wednesday morning.

“That’s the only way you can make connection. It’s impeding communication … and we are very concerned about that.”

Mandatory evacuation orders are in place for parts of Maui, the emergency management official said.

“Right now emergency shelters are open in a number of areas across parts of West Maui and South Maui,” Martin said. “But as precautionary measures, because of the ongoing fires, we’ve relocated the emergency shelters outside of the district.”

The Kahului Airport was sheltering about 1,800 travelers from “canceled flights and flight arrivals,” the Hawaii Department of Transportation posted on social media.

The state is discouraging any nonessential travel to the island of Maui due to the fires, Hawaiian Airlines told CNN in a statement.

At least 6 dead as Maui wildfires overwhelm hospitals, sever 911 services and force people to flee into the ocean | CNN (6)

Members of a Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources wildland firefighting crew battle a fire Tuesday in Kula, Hawaii.

Members of the Hawaii National Guard are assisting with the calamity in Maui – with more on the way.

“Hawaii National Guardsmen have been activated and are currently on Maui assisting Maui Police Department at traffic control points,” Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, Hawaii’s adjutant general, posted on Facebook.

The overnight deployment was hastened by the dynamic fire conditions, Hara wrote, adding more National Guard personnel would arrive in the counties of Maui and Hawaii later Wednesday.

Hurricane Dora’s impact on the wildfires

Dora, a powerful Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 130 mph, was about 795 miles southwest of Honolulu as of Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center said. No coastal watches or warnings were in effect.

At least 6 dead as Maui wildfires overwhelm hospitals, sever 911 services and force people to flee into the ocean | CNN (7)

Smoke rises from a wildfire Tuesday in Lahaina, on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

As Dora travels south of the islands, a strong high-pressure system remains in place to the north. The area of high pressure in combination with Dora is producing “very strong and damaging winds,” the National Weather Service said.

Winds as high as 60 mph are expected through the overnight in Hawaii, then will begin to diminish through the day on Wednesday.

Carlos Barria/Reuters Missing monsoon worsens Phoenix heat as Texas fire risk grows

“These strong winds coupled with low humidity levels are producing dangerous fire weather conditions that will last through Wednesday afternoon,” the weather service said.

By Wednesday afternoon, the area of high pressure, as well as Dora, will both drift westward, allowing the winds to subside.

Two brushfires were burning Tuesday on the Big Island, officials said in a news release, one in the North Kohala District and the other in the South Kohala District. Some residents were under mandatory evacuation orders as power outages were impacting communications, the release said.

Luke, who is acting as the governor as Green was out of the state, issued an emergency proclamation related to the fires on Tuesday.

At least 6 dead as Maui wildfires overwhelm hospitals, sever 911 services and force people to flee into the ocean | CNN (9)

Plumes of smoke billow Tuesday from a fire in Lahaina, Maui County.

“We are closely following the wildfires caused by the strong winds of Hurricane Dora,” Luke said in a statement. “The safety of our residents is paramount, and this emergency proclamation will activate the Hawaiʻi National Guard to support emergency responders in the impacted communities.”

Green has been fully briefed on Dora and its impacts, according to the news release.

“Lieutenant Governor Luke has my full support,” Green said. “My thoughts are with the residents and businesses affected by Hurricane Dora.”

CNN’s Caroll Alvarado, Derek Van Dam, Robert Shackelford, Aya Elamroussi, Kara Nelson, Cheri Mossburg, Jennifer Gray, Eli Masket, Ross Levitt and Kelly McCleary contributed to this report.


At least 6 dead as Maui wildfires overwhelm hospitals, sever 911 services and force people to flee into the ocean | CNN? ›

At least six people have died as a result of the fires that are continuing to ravage parts of Maui, the island's mayor, Richard Bissen Jr., said at a Wednesday morning news conference.

What caused the Lahaina fires? ›

Strong winds driven by Dora, which has been churning over the central Pacific Ocean and moving west, helped whip up wildfires that spread quickly in Hawaii. The weather service Tuesday warned that 45 mph winds and gusts up to 60 mph could create "high fire danger with rapid spread."

What island is burning in Hawaii? ›

KAHULUI, Hawaii -- A wildfire tore through the heart of the Hawaiian island of Maui in total darkness Wednesday, reducing much of a historic town to ash and forcing people to jump into the ocean to flee the flames. At least six people died and dozens were wounded.

Does Hawaii get wildfires? ›

The historic town of Lahaina was damaged, thousands lost power and officials cut off access to popular Maui resorts as wind-swept flames threatened communities.

What is causing the fires on Maui? ›

The wildfires – fueled in part by Hurricane Dora churning some 800 miles away – have cut off 911 service and other communications in many parts of Maui.

Did Maui give fire to humans? ›

Māui said, "The fires of the world have been extinguished, I have come to ask you for fire." Mahuika listened carefully to Māui, and then she laughed. She pulled a fingernail from one of her burning fingers and gave it to him. "Take this fire as a gift to your people.

Which island to retire to in Hawaii? ›

Best Places to Retire in Hawaii: Maui

You'll enjoy plenty of restaurants, bars, and activities in the area, which is popular with tourists on Maui. You'll also enjoy long, gorgeous beaches perfect for a morning or evening stroll.

Which part of Maui is on fire? ›

Fire was widespread in Lahaina Town, including on Front Street, a popular shopping and dining area, County of Maui spokesperson Mahina Martin said by phone early Wednesday.

Why do I burn so easily in Hawaii? ›

The Hawaiian Islands at 19°–22° latitude, receives sunlight more directly than anywhere on the mainland. The more overhead the sunlight is, the less atmosphere it has to travel through. This means that less of the UV rays are filtered out and it's easier to burn.

Will Hawaii survive global warming? ›

In Hawai'i, average temperatures could increase by as much as 5 – 7.5° F by the end of the century. We can expect this to severely affect our communities, ecosystems, and economy. Hawaii's coral reefs alone bring in $385 billion a year.

Is Hawaii getting polluted? ›

The islands' approximation to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and plastic consumption in the tourism industry have caused plastic pollution in Hawaii to skyrocket, covering its once-pristine beaches in plastic trash.

What state is most affected by wildfires? ›

California is the most wildfire-prone state in the United States. In 2021, over 9,000 individual wildfires burned in the Southwestern state ravishing nearly 2.23 million acres. California accounted for roughly 31 percent of all acres burned due to wildland fires in the U.S.

Did the banyan tree in Lahaina burn down? ›

Because of the fire, Hawaii officials have reported hundreds of homes are gone, along with historic businesses on Front Street, even the famous Banyan Tree. Back in the Bay Area, many who were originally on direct flights to Maui say they were instead diverted to Honolulu.

What is the story of Maui stealing fire? ›

Wily Maui thereupon volunteered to undertake the task and was welcomed by the ancient as her grandson. She drew out one of her fingernails and fire gushed forth. This flame she handed to her young descendant who, however, did not go far off before putting it out and returning for more.

What causes Lahaina noon? ›

Lāhainā Noon. Twice a year, in May and July, the Sun passes directly overhead for locations on Earth in the tropics. On these two days, around local noon, the Sun will be exactly overhead, at a 90o angle, and an upright object such as a flagpole will have no shadow.

Why did Maui destroy all the fires in his camp? ›

He was also curious and a clever person. One day when he was lying on the ground after supper, warming his body from a fire pit, he wondered “Where does this fire comes from?”. To test it himself he destroyed all the fire in his camp and other villages around his area with water.

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