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Tragedy Strikes: Maui’s Fiery Catastrophe Claims Lives and Homes, Search and Rescue Operations Intensify




(CTN NEWS) – On Wednesday night, a ferocious wildfire raged through the core of Maui, one of the Hawaiian islands, shrouded in darkness.

The blaze mercilessly transformed a significant portion of a historic town into ashes, compelling individuals to hastily plunge into the ocean to escape the relentless flames.

Tragically, no less than six individuals lost their lives, and numerous others sustained injuries, while a staggering count of 271 structures fell victim to damage or complete destruction.

As the day progressed into Wednesday afternoon, the fires persisted, their fury stoked by powerful winds stemming from Hurricane Dora, which remained far to the south of the Hawaiian archipelago. Authorities held deep concerns that the toll of lives lost might climb even higher.

Maui’s Mayor, Richard Bissen, expressed a profound sense of sorrow, remarking,

“This day is enveloped in somberness. The weight of any loss of life is profoundly tragic. We stand in solidarity with the bereaved families, extending our heartfelt prayers for solace during this immeasurably sorrowful period.”


Aerial Surveys Reveal Devastation: Lahaina’s Catastrophic Aftermath Unveiled from the Skies

With a decrease in wind intensity, certain aircraft were able to resume flights, affording pilots the opportunity to survey the complete extent of the catastrophic aftermath.

Aerial surveys over the coastal enclave of Lahaina were undertaken by the U.S. Civil Air Patrol and the Maui Fire Department, laying bare the profound scale of devastation, as communicated by Mahina Martin, a spokesperson representing Maui County.

From the vantage point of the sky, visual evidence revealed the harrowing scene of numerous residences and businesses in Lahaina razed to the ground.

This included the iconic Front Street, a cherished destination among tourists for shopping and dining. The once vibrant area now lay in ruins, with smoldering mounds of debris stacked prominently alongside the water’s edge.

The harbor’s boats bore the scars of scorching, and an ashen haze hung above the skeletal remains of trees stripped bare by the flames.

Richard Olsten, a seasoned helicopter pilot employed by a tour company, couldn’t conceal his shock, stating,

“It’s a sight that shakes you to your core. I’ve been flying here for 52 years and nothing I’ve witnessed even comes close to this. Tears welled up in our eyes – the other pilots on board, the mechanics, and myself.”

Acting Governor Sylvia Luke echoed the sentiment of loss, acknowledging that the flames had obliterated entire communities. She issued a fervent plea for travelers to avoid the area, cautioning, “Remaining here is not a safe option.”

In response to the dire situation, Maui authorities urgently advised Lahaina’s visitors to evacuate, while the island took the initiative to organize a comprehensive “mass bus evacuation” scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, designed to transport individuals directly to the airport, as highlighted in the county’s latest update.

West Maui Gripped by Silence: No Phone Service or Electricity, Amidst the Ravages of a Devastating Blaze

West Maui remained devoid of cellular, landline phone service, and electricity, as confirmed by county authorities.

While the precise origin of the blaze remained elusive, multiple factors, encompassing formidable winds, diminished humidity levels, and parched vegetation, are believed to have played a role, as articulated by Maj. Gen.

Kenneth Hara, the adjutant general for the Hawaii State Department of Defense. Notably, experts emphasized that the specter of climate change is amplifying the probability of increasingly severe weather events.

“Climate change is inducing heightened aridity in many regions around the globe, primarily due to escalating temperatures,” elucidated Erica Fleishman, who directs the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University.

“Even if precipitation levels remain constant, elevated temperatures accelerate the desiccation process.”

Fueled by the relentless gusts of wind, the wildfire surged through the vicinity with astonishing speed and intensity, hurtling through intersections and vaulting over timbered structures within the historic Lahaina town center.

This enclave, dating back to the 1700s and accorded a place on the National Register of Historic Places, bore witness to the infernal spectacle.

Tiare Lawrence recounted the harrowing accounts of her 14 cousins and uncles who managed to escape the conflagration. They sought refuge in her abode in Pukalani, situated to the east of Lahaina, describing the situation as nothing short of apocalyptic.

In the midst of securing loose objects against the forceful winds at the cultural center he oversees in Lahaina, local resident Keʻeaumoku Kapu was interrupted by his wife on a Tuesday afternoon.

She urged an immediate evacuation, precisely when the situation took a perilous turn. Kapu recounted the intensity, stating, “At that very moment, chaos erupted, the wind spiraled into a frenzy.” Fortunately, they managed to depart just in the nick of time.

Rapid Response to Maui Wildfires: Swift Action Amidst Devastating Flames and Smoke

A mere two blocks away, they were met with the sight of flames and thick plumes of smoke. Responding swiftly, Kapu, accompanied by his wife and a friend, leapt into his pickup truck.

“In the time it took for us to turn around, our building was already engulfed in flames,” he recounted. “The speed of it was astonishing.”

Efforts were underway to combat three separate fires across Maui: one in Lahaina, another in the Kihei region of south Maui, and a third in the elevated, mountainous communities collectively known as Upcountry, as conveyed by Mahina Martin, the spokesperson for Maui County.

Within the Upcountry vicinity of Kula, a fire that consumed approximately 1.7 square miles (4.5 square kilometers) resulted in the destruction of at least two homes on Tuesday, according to County of Maui Mayor Richard Bissen Jr.

As for Hawaii’s Big Island, Mayor Mitch Roth affirmed on Wednesday that no injuries or home losses had been reported in connection to the three wildfires currently ablaze. Firefighters successfully managed to quell several instances of roof fires.

Attributed in part to Hurricane Dora’s presence, the National Weather Service cited gusts exceeding 60 mph (97 kph) as a consequence, causing power outages, unsettling residences, and grounding firefighting helicopters on Maui.

Notably, the hurricane was positioned at a safe distance of 500 miles (805 kilometers) south of the island chain.

In a notable rescue operation, the Coast Guard retrieved 14 individuals, including two children, who had sought refuge in the ocean to escape the encroaching fire and the obscuring haze, as detailed in a statement from the county.

Tragedy Strikes as Maui Fires Claim Lives: Search and Rescue Efforts Continue Amid Escalating Crisis

Tragically, fires have claimed the lives of six individuals on Maui, yet the ongoing search and rescue operations persist, with the potential for the casualty count to escalate, as highlighted by Bissen.

During the course of Tuesday night, six patients were airlifted from Maui to Oahu, as confirmed by Speedy Bailey, the regional director of Hawaii Life Flight, an air-ambulance company.

Among them, three suffered critical burns and were subsequently transported to the burn unit at Straub Medical Center, while the remaining patients were admitted to other hospitals in Honolulu.

In addition, a minimum of 20 patients were conveyed to Maui Memorial Medical Center.

In a concerning development, it was reported earlier on Wednesday that a firefighter on Maui had been hospitalized due to smoke inhalation, though the individual’s condition remained stable.

In response to the escalating crisis, Acting Governor Luke invoked an emergency proclamation on behalf of Governor Josh Green, who was away on travel. Additionally, the Hawaii National Guard was activated to provide support.

“Specific areas of Maui are grappling with overwhelmed shelters,” Luke acknowledged. “Our available resources are being stretched to their limits.”

In a statement issued on Wednesday evening, President Joe Biden affirmed his directive to mobilize “all available Federal assets” to extend assistance to Hawaii.

The President detailed that the Coast Guard and Navy are actively contributing to response and rescue operations, while the Marine Corps is deploying Black Hawk helicopters to combat the fires.

Though an official count of evacuees was not readily available, it was disclosed that four shelters were operational, accommodating a total of 2,100 individuals.

At Kahului Airport, Maui’s principal aviation hub, around 2,000 travelers who either had their flights canceled or had recently arrived on the island were provided shelter, as conveyed by the county.

Members of a Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources wildland firefighting crew on Maui battle a fire in Kula, Hawaii, on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. Several Hawaii communities were forced to evacuate from wildfires that destroyed at least two homes as of Tuesday as a dry season mixed with strong wind gusts made for dangerous fire conditions. (Matthew Thayer/The Maui News via AP)

Preparations for Shelter Amidst Tragedy: Hawaii Convention Center to House Displaced Residents and Tourists

Meanwhile, preparations were underway to repurpose the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu to house as many as 4,000 displaced tourists and local residents.

“Local residents have endured profound losses,” acknowledged James Tokioka, the director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. “Homes, possessions, and even their cherished animals have been taken away.”

Former President Barack Obama, a native of Hawaii, expressed his emotional response on social media, underscoring the emotional impact of witnessing the distressing images emerging from a place of deep significance.

“Michelle and I stand in solidarity with all those who have suffered losses or upheaval,” he conveyed.

Reflecting on the devastating turn of events, Kapu, proprietor of the Na Aikane o Maui cultural center in Lahaina, recounted how he and his spouse had been compelled to evacuate abruptly, leaving behind invaluable research materials and artifacts that had accumulated over the years.

Alan Dickar, owner of the Vintage European Posters gallery, a longstanding establishment on Front Street in Lahaina, shared uncertainty about the fate of his business.

In the midst of evacuating with companions and pets, Dickar captured footage depicting the conflagration engulfing the vibrant strip of shops and dining venues frequented by tourists.

With deep reverence for its vibrant Hawaiian community, Lahaina holds a profound significance beyond its role as a tourist haven, as highlighted by Lawrence.

Overwhelmed with sorrow, she lamented the widespread loss: “Every corner carries our memories. Homes that sheltered lives. In just a matter of hours, everyone’s world has been irrevocably altered.”


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