Maui Fires Kick Up Dust, Ash As Mop-Up Continues

Jul 11, 2019

Updated: July 14, 6:345 p.m.

Maui residents and visitors were advised to drive carefully and stay indoors, if needed, as dust and ash from two brush fires lowered road visibility as well as air quality in parts of the island.

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said in a release Sunday afternoon that the dust and ash made driving on roadways, including North Kihei Road and Maui Veterans Highway, concerning. He added that those with respiratory problems should remain indoors with air-conditioning, if possible.

"Stay vigilant. Stay safe," Victorino said in a news release. "Stay out of harm's way."

Air quality in the Kihei area degraded to a rating of "unhealthy for sensitive groups," according to state air quality data as of early Sunday evening. Kahului air quality remained good.

Firefighters are closing in on controlling the two brush fires that prompted evacuations and disrupted transportation and utilities late last week.

Control of the first fire, reported Thursday morning near the intersection of Waiko Road and Kuihelani Highway, remains at 80%. The fire, which scorched about 9,000 acres, led to mandatory evaluations from Malaaea and North Kihei, diverted flights and closed roads in and out of Central and South Maui.

Some of the hundreds of visitors who were stranded because of cancelled flights or road closures spent time in a shelter.

All roads are now open, evacuations have been lifted and shelters are closed. 

A second fire that sparked near the Maui Business Park in Kahului on Friday led to evacuations from nearby businesses, including Target and Lowe's, and Puunene School. Firefighters estimated 90% of that fire was contained, having burned about 200 acres.

On Sunday, firefighters were monitoring the perimeters of the fires and putting out hotspots. They said the fires could smolder for a week longer.

The fires are burning as Maui copes with serious drought conditions. Maui Mayor Michael Victorino last week said the vegetation was the driest he had seen in Central Maui. 

Gov. David Ige issued an emergency proclamation Friday afternoon, declaring the County of Maui a disaster area in the wake of the brush fire.

“I am declaring our Valley Isle a disaster area for the purpose of implementing the emergency management functions as allowed by law. The emergency proclamation also authorizes the expenditure of state monies as appropriated to support speedy and efficient relief efforts.”

Maui County officials have not confirmed the cause of either fire, but Maui News reported that arson was suspected in the second Puunene fire. 

No injuries have been reported and no major structures damaged in either fire. The South Maui fire has burned largely fallow, former sugar cane lands and dry brush, adding to fears that the shutdown of Maui sugar plantations might lead to more wildfires.

Repairs were completed Friday night to damaged water lines on North Kihei Road. The Maui Department of Water Supply had previously asked customers to conserve water while the repairs were underway.

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

Hawaiian Telcom's fiber optic cable was damaged in the first fire. Officials reported about 1,600 feet of fiber optic cable and eight telephone poles were affected.

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to Friday updates that should have referenced Saturday.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.