Evacuations lifted as firefighters continue to battle large Maui brush fire

Published: Oct. 23, 2019 at 4:23 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A large brush fire in the Kahana Ridge area that forced evacuations, damaged homes, triggered road closures and even jumped an airport runway continues to burn Wednesday, but firefighters are slowly getting the upper hand.

At last check, the fire was 70% contained and burned under 1,000 acres, the Maui Fire Department said.

Officials said the blaze is no longer “raging,” but dousing it remains a challenge.

On Wednesday morning, Mayor Mike Victorino said all roads have been reopened, and all residents were allowed to return home.

The Maui Fire Department said the blaze started in Kahana, just above the Kapalua Airport around 1:20 p.m. Tuesday. At the time, it had burned about 3 acres and was spreading fast due to dry conditions and steady trades.

At one point, 40 firefighting personnel were battling the flames on land and by air.

“I want to extend another heartfelt mahalo to our first responders and American Red Cross for their tireless work today,” Victorino said. “I continue to applaud our public and private partners for coming together to help our community.”

The fire caused evacuations and damaged at least two homes in the Kahana Ridge area.

Flames jumped the runway at Kapalua Airport on Tuesday afternoon.
Flames jumped the runway at Kapalua Airport on Tuesday afternoon.(State Transportation Department)

The Maui Fire Department said homes at the top of Kakaalaneo Drive and the top of Ala Hoku Place were evacuated. Mahinahina Street residents were also forced to clear out.

“It quickly moved towards my neighborhood and I called work and my co-workers said, ‘You need to pack a bag and evacuate’ and I said, ‘Nah, it’s not that bad,'” resident Gloreen Loper said.

“But within five minutes it already came closer to the highway... The smoke was so thick that my eyes were burning and it was hard to breathe,” she added.

A pet-friendly emergency shelter also opened for evacuees at the Lahaina Civic Center.

“The police came down our street with their speaker and told everyone to evacuate so we quickly grabbed stuff and threw it in a bag threw it in our cars,” Loper said. “You could see panic in everyone and of course I start crying because it was traumatic going through something like that. I don’t care about the house, I think I was just thankful that I got out.”

The emergency shelter closed on Wednesday morning.

Maui Preparatory Academy said it also voluntarily evacuated its campus as a precaution.

The flames also closed several major thoroughfares at one point, including Honoapiilani Highway at Lower Honoapiilani Highway, Hoohui Road at Honoapiilani Highway, and Akahele Street. All of those roads have since been reopened.

#BREAKING: Maui police say a fast-moving brush fire that started on Kahana Ridge has now reached Kapalua Airport's runway. The airport along with several area homes have been evacuated. MORE: #HINews #HNN

Posted by Hawaii News Now on Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Earlier in the day, wind-whipped flames also jumped Kapalua Airport’s runway.

The state Transportation Department said power was cut to the Kapalua Airport early Tuesday after flames damaged power lines.

Officials said planes at the airport were able to fly out before the flames got too close, but the airport was closed through the rest of the day. It was reopened on Wednesday morning.

Several airlines service Kapalua Airport, though it wasn’t immediately clear how many flights were affected. It was believed to be fewer than eight.

Travelers were urged to check with their carriers for flight updates.

Firefighting efforts will continue at first light Wednesday.

Weather conditions on Maui on Tuesday were sustained winds of about 20 mph, with gusts to 30 mph.

Smoke from a large Maui brush fire can be seen from the air.
Smoke from a large Maui brush fire can be seen from the air.(Loren Natividad)

This story will be updated.

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