Maui Brush Fire 20 Percent Contained, Stands At About 9,000 Acres

19 hours ago

Updated: July 12, 11:51 a.m.

Roads to Kihei have been reopened and mandatory evacuations lifted even though a brush fire that diverted some Maui flights continued to flare on Friday.

Maui County officials said firefighters are maintaining their battle against the fire that was first reported Thursday morning in Central Maui. On Friday morning, it stood at about 9,000 acres with the Maui Fire Department estimating the fire was 20% contained. 

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said South Maui is suffering from poor air quality due to the large amounts of smoke created by the fire. Residents with respiratory problems should stay indoors and everyone should wear masks, especially in the North Kihei area, the mayor advised.

All shelters have been closed. Visitors who had stayed at the War Memorial Gymnasium after missing their flights were taken to Kahului Airport, a county spokesman said in an email Friday. The War Memorial Gymnasium and one at Kamalii Elementary School may reopen depending on conditions, he said.

"This fire is still an active threat to our community, and residents are urged to remain vigilant of changing conditions," Victorino stated on the county's website.

No injuries have been reported and no major structures were damaged, although the mayor said in a press conference Thursday night that some farm equipment had burned.

The fire was first reported at around 10:45 a.m. near the intersection of Waiko Road and Kuihelani Highway. Officials described the burned land as dry brush and fallow former sugar cane property.

The fire broke out as Maui is coping with drought conditions. Victorino said during Thursday night's press conference that conditions were the driest he had seen in Central Maui.

"I believe this may turn out to be the largest brush fire in Maui's history," Victorino said Friday morning. "With that being said, today is crucial. Once the winds kick up, we'll have a better understanding where the fire and the direction it'll be moving in."

Mandatory evacuations, since lifted, covered residents and visitors in the Maalaea and North Kihei region.

The fire came close to several structures, including the Maalaea power plant. The Maui Humane Society was evacuated and animals moved to an evacuation site at Maui High School.

Visitors had been advised Thursday to stay at their hotels and to contact their airlines about their flights.

Hawaiian Telcom's fiber optic cable has been damaged, and residents might have difficulty reaching 911 services. Officials say callers should remain patient and expect telephone services to be fully restored by Friday afternoon. 

The state Department of Transportation reported several flights previously diverted from Maui Thursday are resuming their travels. However, due to the numbers of cancelled flights, there were more delays at Kahului airport on Friday.

The DOT is urging passengers to arrive at least three hours prior to their departure times.

Hawaiian Airlines said its flights were operating as scheduled, but spokesman Alex Da Silva said the airline was urging passengers to check the status of their flights because the situation was evolving.

Hawaiian Airlines said it will waive change fees for guests with tickets arriving or departing Kahului or Kapalua through Friday. Flights must be rebooked by July 18, according to a news release.

Maui Electric said about 4,000 customers in parts of South Maui lost power Thursday at around 1:50 p.m. due to the fire. Power was restored for most customers at about 3 p.m. 

The company said in an update Friday that it is continuing to monitor the fire and take preventative measures at the Maalaea Generating Station. Maui Electric is asking customers to conserve power between 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday as crews work on a damaged transmission line.

Workers are assessing any damage to electrical equipment "where it is safe to do so." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.