Order to evacuate as Maui's wildfire spreads

Smoke blanketing the sky as a wildfire spreads in Maui, Hawaii, on Thursday. Thousands were ordered to evacuate the area, while Kahului Airport was briefly closed and flights were diverted because of the smoke, which also forced the closure of two ma
Smoke blanketing the sky as a wildfire spreads in Maui, Hawaii, on Thursday. Thousands were ordered to evacuate the area, while Kahului Airport was briefly closed and flights were diverted because of the smoke, which also forced the closure of two major roads. PHOTO: REUTERS

MAUI • Thousands of residents and visitors on Hawaii's Maui Island were ordered to evacuate two coastal communities as a wildfire sent smoke billowing high into the sky, officials and local media said.

The 1,214ha brush fire in Maui's central valley was uncontrolled on Thursday night, Maui mayor Mike Victorino told a news conference.

He said firefighters would monitor it overnight but that it was too dangerous to battle the spreading blaze in the dark.

"We can't fight the fire tonight," he said. "We're not going to send any firefighters into harm's way."

A National Weather Service satellite photo showing smoke hanging over the island was posted on local media and social media sites.

The brush fire was reported at about 10.30am local time. Steady winds of up to 32kmh fanned the flames, officials said. It jumped a highway and spread across fallow fields and more brush.

Two helicopters from the fire department also dropped water on the blaze to try to contain it.

While thousands were ordered to evacuate, it was unclear how many people had fled the west Maui coastal communities of Maalaea and Kihei. But three shelters were housing about 500 people late on Thursday, media reports said.

The Maui High School, meanwhile, housed about 200 cats and dogs moved from a local animal shelter, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Kahului Airport was briefly closed and flights were diverted because of the smoke, which also forced the closure of two major roads. But operations were back to normal around 7pm local time, media reported.

No injuries or damage to structures were reported, according to the Hawaii News Now TV station.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2019, with the headline 'Order to evacuate as Maui's wildfire spreads'. Print Edition | Subscribe