Dora-fueled winds whip up destructive brush fires, trigger evacuations
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Powerful winds fueled by Hurricane Dora far south of Hawaii are creating dangerous conditions statewide, whipping up destructive brush fires, including one on Maui that destroyed several structures and sent people fleeing into the ocean.
On Maui, crews have been scrambling to rescue people who were forced to jump into Lahaina waters to avoid fast-moving flames from a massive wind-fueled brush fire that destroyed several structures. There were unconfirmed reports of as many as 100 people in need of rescue.
Earlier in the evening, mandatory evacuations were ordered for residents on Lahainaluna Road, Hale Mahaolu and Lahaina Bypass. Several roads were also closed in the area, including Lahaina Bypass.
Maui Mayor Richard Bissen issued an emergency proclamation in response to the fires, and the American Red Cross has opened Maui High School as an evacuation center.
Acting Gov. Sylvia Luke activated the Hawaii National Guard Tuesday night to help with the response to wildfires on Maui and Hawaii Island, where several blazes have also triggered evacuations.
Forecasters say parts of the state are seeing winds to 50 mph with 80 mph gusts.
In addition the blaze in Lahaina, Maui fire crews are battling a large wildfire in Kula. Mayor Bissen said at least two homes were damaged and more than 1,000 acres burned. Officials said at least 80 people were evacuated in the area.
Maui Fire Assistant Chief Jeff Giesea said the firefighting conditions are extremely tough. “The fire can be a mile or more from your house, but in a minute or two, it can be at your house,” he said.
Making the situation more difficult: The high winds mean firefighters can’t conduct water drops.
On Tuesday afternoon, the large wildfire in Upcountry Maui was sending thick smoke high into the air and reducing visibility.
Upcountry Maui resident Caroline Lebrec is among those forced to evacuate and said as she was making her way to an emergency shelter, she could see the flames advancing. “There were branches falling down on us, small ones but enough that I sped up,” she said.
Some 54 residents sought shelter at the Hannibal Tavares Community Center in Pukalani.
Meanwhile on Hawaii Island, crews were battling least four brush fires, including a large blaze in Kohala that’s burned more than 1,800 acres and forced evacuations of several communities.
Weather-related power outages are also impacting thousands of residents statewide. More than 12,000 customers were without power in West Maui alone, where crews were scrambling to repair at least 30 downed power lines. Throughout the day, thousands on Oahu were also without power.
Statewide on Tuesday, the windy conditions also forced the closure of five Maui public schools and officials said the campuses would remain closed Wednesday.
For a list of impacted schools, click here.
- Crews work to repair more than 30 downed power poles on Maui; thousands without power
- LIST: Strong gusts, wind-whipped wildfires trigger closures on Maui, Hawaii Island
- Forecast: Gusty, damaging winds from Dora buffet the state, lighter winds due on Thursday
- Hawaii under high wind, red flag warnings as Hurricane Dora churns south of island chain
- Dora remains a powerful Cat 4 hurricane, packing winds of 130 mph south of state
Hawaii Island Fire Department lifted the mandatory evacuations for the following places: Kohala By the Sea, Kohala Waterfront, Kohala Estates, and Kohala Ranch between Kamakani Loop and Kohala Mountain Road, Highway 250. These residents may return to their homes.
However, Kohala Ranch between Kamakani Loop to Akoni Pula Highway, Highway 270 remains under mandatory evacuation.
“The winds are definitely making this fire fight very difficult,” Roth said.
On Oahu, the winds have also been keeping first responders busy.
The Honolulu Fire Department said that from Monday night into Tuesday at noon, firefighters responded to at least 14 downed trees, six downed power line and four damaged roofs.
Firefighters were also responding to several brush fires on Oahu, including a blaze in Waipio that had burned more than 100 acres. Officials said the blazes on Oahu were not threatening structures.
Several severe weather alerts remain in effect for much of the state, including a high wind warning and red flag warning for much of the state until 6 a.m. Wednesday. Hawaii News Now has also declared Tuesday as a First Alert Weather Day given the potential for ongoing damage.
The strong winds are thanks to Hurricane Dora, a Category 4 storm tracking south of the island chain. National Weather Service forecasters say Dora is interacting with a strong pressure system to create the damaging winds, with wind gusts to 55 mph reported in many spots.
Here’s a look at the latest impacts:
- Hundreds of residents on Maui were under evacuation orders Tuesday morning as firefighters battled brush fires in Makawao and Lahaina. The Lahaina brush fire was declared contained about 10 a.m., but officials were urging caution.
- At least 54 people went to an emergency shelter in Pukalani as crews battled a brush fire reported in Kula shortly after midnight. Officials reported two structures were damaged and at least 675 acres burned. There was no immediate word on any injuries.
- Four public schools in West Maui are closed due to strong winds and unsafe conditions. Officials said the closed campuses are: Princess Nahi’ena’ena Elementary, King Kamehameha III Elementary, Lahaina Intermediate and Lahainaluna High.
- And outages were impacting thousands of people across Maui, including more than 12,000 customers in West Maui. There was also a large outage reported on Molokai.
- Hawaii County firefighters were battling two brush fires in North Kohala, and an evacuation order was issued for the Kohala Ranch area and subsequently expanded. Emergency shelters were set up at Hisaoka Gym in Kapaau and Waimea Community Center.
- Officials say power outages in the area may affect communication streams to the public. Over 1,000 customers were without power as crews respond to multiple outages across the island. Areas affected include: Haleaha, Kamuela, Lalamilo, Kawaihae, Waika.
- Viewers have sent in footage to Hawaii News Now of downed trees and utility poles across of Oahu, including one that closed Manoa Road at the 3500 block.
- There were also thousands without power, including in Downtown Honolulu.
Officials are reminding the public to take in or properly secure any loose outdoors items in preparation of the powerful winds. Outdoor burning is also not recommended during this time.
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This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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