Attention shifts to arson investigation as crews gain upper hand in Maui wildfires

Updated: Jul. 13, 2019 at 5:45 PM HST
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KIHEI, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Officials on Maui remained on high alert as a raging wildfire ― believed to be the largest in the county’s history ― continued to burn out of control in Central Maui.

The Maui Fire Department began air drops of water with two helicopters after sunrise Saturday morning.

As of 5:30 p.m., containment was at 80 percent for the 9,000-acre wildfire that began Thursday morning near the intersection of Waiko Road and Kuihelani Highway and spread south and east to north Kihei, officials said.

Crews were closely monitoring hot spots around the perimeter areas.

A separate fire reported at 1:30 p.m. Friday near Lowe’s and the new Safeway in Kahului was 90 percent contained for 200 acres burned.

Officials added that crews were “burning out” dry brush in the Puunene area to remove debris that would’ve added fuel to the fire. The controlled burned took place Saturday morning.

Maui police have launched an arson investigation into the massive wildfires.

They’re searching for a maroon-colored Ford Truck, dually-style with four wheels in the back and truck racks. Officials said the truck was seen leaving the area of the Hookele Street Fire.

All roads are open, and there are no current evacuations, police reported.

There were 25 visitors who were stranded at Kahului Airport Friday night. They were taken to Maui High School for shelter overnight before being shuttled back to the airport at 5 a.m. There were a handful of others stranded due to a flight cancellation.

More than 24 hours after the massive fire began burning, Gov. David Ige issued an emergency disaster proclamation for the island, enabling the state to provide ‘quick and efficient relief’ as firefighters worked to get the blaze under control.

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

Authorities with the Hawaii National Guard say eight 20-foot shipping containers that are used to store equipment outside of the Pu’unene Armory have been damaged by the wildfire.

Several pieces of farm equipment were also reported to have been damaged or destroyed, according to Maui Mayor Mike Victorino.

A flare-up of the fire on Friday afternoon, in an area near a Kahului shopping complex, forced the voluntary evacuation of a Lowe’s Home Improvement store.

Though residents of north Kihei and Maalaea had been ordered to evacuate on Thursday, they were allowed to return to their homes overnight, and all emergency shelters had been reported closed by Friday morning.

But county authorities warned that new evacuation orders may be necessary.

“Be vigilant, pay attention to everything that’s going on,” Mayor Mike Victorino said, urging residents to be alert at all times.

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The fire started Thursday morning and quickly burned out of control, forcing road closures across Central Maui.

By about 2:30 p.m. Thursday, the fire had grown out of control and was deemed dangerous enough to warrant emergency evacuations. Emergency alerts were sent to mobile phones from emergency management officials that read: “KIHEI RESIDENTS NORTH OF OHUKAI RD EVACUATE NOW. KAMALII SCHOOL SHELTER OPEN NOW.”

Just more than an hour later, at around 3:45 p.m., residents of Maalaea ― located due west of the initial evacuation ― were also told to seek shelter immediately.

In all, Victorino said about 2,000 people were hunkered down — both at shelters and at the Kahului Airport — on Thursday.

But about 170 individuals who stayed at the War Memorial overnight because they missed their flights were transported to the Kahului Airport Friday morning.

All roads to and from Kihei were also reopened in both directions on Friday morning, officials said.

Victorino said no major damage or injuries have been reported so far. However, Hawaiian Telcom said some of its cables were damaged, leading to some outages. People may still experience delays while making calls.

Officials urge everyone to reduce their TV and internet usage while damage is assessed.

Maui Electric also reported damage to the electrical caused by the fire. As a result, customers are being asked to conserve electricity Friday evening, especially between 5 to 9 p.m.

The Kihei Aquatic Center, Upcountry pool in Pukalani and Summer Pals program at all South Maui sites were closed due to heavy smoke and debris.

The cloud of smoke from the fire was so big it could be seen from outer space, the National Weather Service said.

For a period early Thursday afternoon, the most immediate danger appeared to have been to be at the Maui Humane Society, where officials were forced to evacuate several hundred animals away from the area.

Though the animals are now all reported to be safe, the humane society took to social media earlier Thursday to ask for help from the community to bring supplies and to help transport the animals to the Maui High School parking lot.

This story will continue to be updated.

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