Wildfires raged across the islands of Maui and Hawai‘i last week, killing at least 96 people and destroying large parts of the beloved tourist destination and historic town of Lahaina on Maui. It’s the deadliest wildfire in more than a century, and the death toll is expected to rise as search teams continue to look for human remains through the smoke and destruction. Thousands of residents and visitors were evacuated, and the U.S. Coast Guard said crews rescued more than a dozen people who jumped into the Lahaina harbor to escape the fire.
“Lahaina, with a few rare exceptions, has been burned down,” Hawai‘i Gov. Josh Green said during a Thursday news conference. “Many, many hundreds of families have been displaced. We’ll rebuild.”
Major airlines, including Delta, United, Southwest and Hawaiian Airlines, have been providing additional flights to help Maui visitors leave the island as soon as possible, said Ed Sniffen, the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation’s deputy director for highways, during a news conference. The County of Maui announced a mass bus evacuation to get hundreds of people to Kahului Airport or a central shelter.
The fires on Hawai‘i Island are in the Mauna Kea Resort area.
As the damage assessments continued, state officials last week strongly discouraged nonessential travel to Maui in the days and weeks ahead.
Those with imminent travel plans to West Maui are urged to reschedule, the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority stated in an alert on its website. The tourism board advised travelers to contact their specific airlines for any flight changes, cancellations and assistance with rebooking.
Green said that the historic Front Street in Lahaina is “tragically gone” and that at least 1,000 buildings have burned down. One of the tourist attractions in Lahaina, a 60-foot-plus banyan tree planted in 1873, the largest banyan tree in the U.S., was burned by the wildfires. Reports from Honolulu Civil Beat and NPR indicate the tree is still standing. The 122-year-old Pioneer Inn burned down, according to Hawaii News Now. “It’s a very sad day in Hawai‘i. It’s devastating,” said James Tokioka, state director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, in a news conference. “On the visitor industry hat, what happened at West Maui is devastating. ... West Maui is not open right now, but the rest of the state is open. If you have an opportunity to change your reservation, please consider doing so.”