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What it was like escaping the Maui wildfires

Evacuating from a wildfire on an island can be treacherous, and relies on aircraft.
Posted at 8:53 PM, Aug 09, 2023

Wind-driven wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui on Tuesday had killed at least six people, downed power and phone infrastructure and torched historic towns. By Thursday at least 36 people were reported dead amid the fires. 

The flames forced the abrupt evacuation of residents — some of them straight into the ocean, according to the Associated Press. The U.S. Coast Guard says it rescued 14 people from ocean waters after they fled fires in the town of Lahaina.

Scripps News spoke with Lisa Paulson, executive director of the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association, about how officials are coordinating the evacuation and housing of people on Maui who have to escape from the fires, but who can only go so far before dry land runs out.

6 killed as wind-driven wildfire rages through Maui, Hawaii
Wildfire reaches downtown Lahaina, Maui

6 killed as wind-driven wildfire rages through Maui, Hawaii

The Coast Guard has responded to some areas where residents have entered the ocean to avoid smoke and fire conditions.

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"We have had very little contact with the [Kaanapali Beach] side, due to power, land lines down, cell towers down," Paulson said. "They sheltered in place throughout the night just for safety precautions, and then we started evacuating them this morning using the backside of the island, which is a very narrow and precarious drive. But we are getting them out, and getting them to the airport to hopefully get them off-island."

"We have wonderful partners — Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines — they're beefing up their flights, even trying to get people staged on our neighboring island of Oahu, and then they can catch their flight home from Oahu instead of Maui," Paulson said. "We're very grateful that we have that capability of a lot of airlift, in getting our guests off the island."

Paulson warned visitors who might choose to continue their vacations that services on Maui are diminished as a result of the emergency. Power and air conditioning are down, and accommodations aren't necessarily able to serve food.

Paulson recommends travelers contact their accommodation management before beginning travel.