Maui Runaway Brush Fire Prompts Order To Evacuate

10 hours ago

Updated: July 11, 9:11 p.m.

A brush fire that prompted evacuations and diverted some flights on the Hawaii island of Maui remained uncontained, officials said Thursday night. An evacuation notice was sent to the cellphones of residents in the town of Maalaea and in parts of Kihei, a Maui County official said. 

Access in and out of Kihei on Maui was blocked as of 3:15 p.m., The Maui News reported. But Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said at a press conference around 7 p.m. that Maui Veterans Highway was reopened for traffic leaving Kihei only.

North Kihei Road remained closed. Kuihelani Highway and Waiko Road were reopened.

"I am happy to report that, to this point, I am very thankful that no one has been injured and no property has been lost in the central plains of Maui, stretching from Waikapu and Waiko Road area all the way across to Maalaea and North Kihei," the mayor said.

Victorino, who took a helicopter flight over the brushfire, estimated about 3,000 acres had burned. He said it came close to pump stations and the Maalaea power plant and homes in the North Kihei area. He urged residents to pay attention to the status of the fire.

"We don't know where this will move and we don't know how quickly it could move overnight," he said.

Some flights to the island's main airport in Kahului were diverted because the fire was affecting access to the facility, the state Department of Transportation said on Twitter. But operations were back to normal as of late afternoon.

According to the mayor, visitors were advised to stay at their hotels unless they check with their airlines first if returning home and car rental companies were telling tourists they cannot drive to Kihei. 

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 Thursday and Friday. Flights must be rebooked by July 18, according to a news release.

Officials say the fire started along Kuihelani Highway, which runs between Kahului and Maalaea, Thursday morning.

The county activated shelters in Wailuku and Kihei. Several shelters were open as of around 7 p.m.: 

  • Kihei Community Center, manned by the Department of Parks and Recreation, had 156 people and six dogs.
  • Kamalii Elementary School, manned by the Red Cross, had 253 people.
  • War Memorial Gymnasium, manned by Red Cross, had 200 people.

Velma McWayne Santos Community Center in Wailuku is on standby as an emergency shelter if War Memorial reaches capacity. The county Department of Transportation had buses standing by at Kahului airport to take affected visitors and residents to shelters. The county said Thuesday night the DOT was preparing to transport 300 people from the airport to the War Memorial Gym. 

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

Fire crews planned to work through the night to try to contain the fire. Three helicopters had flown most of the day making water drops, but were grounded after sunset.

Police said there were some disrupted 911 calls, but people were advised to keep trying until dispatchers answer.

The Maui Humane Society was evacuated and animals moved to an evacuation site at Maui High School.

Hawaii Public Radio contributed to this report.