Large Maalaea brush fire now 90 percent contained - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Large Maalaea brush fire now 90 percent contained

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MAALAEA, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Maui firefighters are making slow but steady progress against a stubborn brush fire that started Saturday in Maalaea.

Officials estimate at least 4,700 acres have been burned. The blaze is about 90 percent contained, and there are no active flames, fire officials said Thursday.

Crews are continuing to work on isolated hotspots. Fire officials say it could take several more days to declare the fire extinguished.

The blaze hasn't destroyed any homes or businesses, but it did ignite construction vehicles and mobile office trailers.

On Saturday, the large, fast-moving fire closed a section of the Honoapiilani Highway twice, stranding hundreds of residents and tourists who couldn't get to Lahaina.

Kihei resident Lori Cheetham was stuck on the Honoapiilani Highway overnight as flames crept closer to traffic. She finally made it home after 4 a.m. Sunday.

"I lost all cell phone communication during this time so I really didn't know what was going on," she said. "After 4.5 hours of sitting in traffic I finally turned my car around and go the opposite direction around Wailuku and that traffic was even worse. It was an absolute nightmare"

"It was so huge. Biggest fire I've seen on my time here on Maui," Cheetham recalled.

Emergency shelters were opened for residents and visitors.

The American Red Cross had shelters at the Maui War Memorial in Wailuku and the Lahaina Civic Center, with facilities accommodating about 730 people at one point. The shelters closed at 7 a.m. Sunday. 

"We had Polynesian tours and Roberts Hawaii buses literally dropping off people by the bus load. It was a bit hectic, definitely, at the shelters last night," said Michele Liberty, the Red Cross Maui County director.

Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa was caught up in the traffic Saturday and said events like this demonstrates why West Maui needs more alternative roads.

"Last night's brush fire was a perfect example of why we need an alternate route to and from West Maui. Our residents and visitors can be cut off at any time due to a brush fire, rock slide or even a bad traffic accident," Arakawa said. "I urge our state delegates, governor and lieutenant governor to do another environmental impact study that looks at every alternative to creating another West Maui route."

Arakawa added: "These events that cut off Lahaina from the rest of the island are happening all too often and we need to look for other solutions."

The blaze started about 12:30 p.m. and quickly spread, creating traffic gridlock as roads were closed and causing widespread power outages. By late afternoon, power had been restored. 

Firefighters said the fire was only about 40-by-40 foot when they discovered it.

They believe it was caused by a flare-up from a fire that broke out due to a downed power line earlier on Saturday at around 1:30 a.m. However, they weren't able to immediately reach the fire due to a locked gate and within minutes, 40 mph gusts caused the flames to spread quickly.

In addition to battling the blaze, firefighters airlifted six hikers from the Lahaina Pali trail to safety. The hikers were not in immediate danger, but were told to hike to higher ground so they could be flown out.

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