Washington residents, visitors change course as fire decimates parts of Maui

Aug 11, 2023, 5:30 AM | Updated: 6:46 am

maui fire Lahaina...

An aerial view of Lahaina after wildfires burned through the town on the Hawaiian island of Maui, on August 10, 2023. At least 36 people have died after a fast-moving wildfire turned Lahaina to ashes, officials said August 9, as visitors asked to leave the island of Maui found themselves stranded at the airport. The fires began burning early August 8, scorching thousands of acres and putting homes, businesses and 35,000 lives at risk on Maui, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said in a statement. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon via Getty Images)

(Photo by Patrick T. Fallon via Getty Images)

A wildfire that has torn through the heart of the Hawaiian island of Maui has led local tourists to cancel their summer visits. Meanwhile, others already vacationing on the tropical island are sheltering in place.

“We’re staying in Wailea, which is outside of the fire zone,” Ann Liberato, a longtime mortgage broker from Kirkland, told KIRO Newsradio. But Liberato and her husband are just 45 minutes from the town of Lahaina, the site of the fire. She said heavy layers of ash covered Wailea, along with many other parts of the island.

The fires, fueled by a dry summer and strong winds from a passing hurricane, started Tuesday and have claimed at least 36 lives.

More than 100 National Guard members have been sent to combat and contain the Maui and Big Island fires, according to Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Devin Robinson.

More on Maui fire: Maui surveys the burned wreckage caused by the deadliest US wildfire in years

At least 271 structures have been damaged or destroyed. The fire is the deadliest since the 2018 Camp Fire in California, which killed at least 85 people in Paradise.

“One of the gals told us that she’d gotten like an hour and a half asleep because they’d been evacuated, and they were in their car, and she was just hoping that she would have a home when she got back,” Liberato continued.

Liberato and her husband were able to get a flight back home. Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest Airlines are providing $19 flights to help Maui island residents evacuate.

“Basically, Lahaina is completely wiped out,” Liberato said. “I heard from a (Washington State Cougars) account that they had to get up in the middle of the night, and they were in their rental car with their belongings, and they don’t have a flight out for a couple more days. They were looking for other WSU Cougs that lived in the area that they could stay with because they had to get out in three, four minutes from their hotel rooms and run.”

Lahaina was once recognized as Hawaii’s political center in the 19th century once the whaling and fishing industries in the region took off. Hawaii moved its capital to Honolulu in 1845.

“There’s an incredible sadness,” Liberato said. “We had not gone to Lahaina this trip. But we’ve certainly been to Lahaina many, many times. What you hear from people all day today was how sad they are that all that history is gone.”

Jules Toney was staying close to Lahaina. Her trip to a destination wedding turned into a frantic escape as fires torched the area.

“We were supposed to go to a luau and on our way the sky was just black,” she said to KIRO 7. “You could see the orange glow of the fires underneath the black smoke.”

The Whidbey Island native made it to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, but had to avoid flames to get to Maui’s airport as natives helped people get away.

“We had to go up all around the north side of the island which took about three hours,” she said. She added that they were given free water, food, and bathrooms as they made the long journey to the airport.

Mino McLean was on her way from Maui to Seattle when she learned about the devastating news on the Hawaiian island.

“While I was on the plane, Lahaina was completely destroyed,” McLean said. “The Kaiser clinic down Front Street burned down, every building, every home, entire neighborhoods, gone.”

McLean is from Kula, Maui, which is about an hour from Lahaina. She was supposed to stay in Seattle until August 16, but because of the fires, she’s going back home.  She said the first thing she’s going to do when she gets there is hug her kids.

“It’s very sad — right now I’m just hoping we can get the support we need to help the people that are displaced,” she said. “And I mean it’s still happening; there are fires active right now and I don’t know what’s going on.”

More on Washington wildfires: Sourdough Fire in Whatcom County burns 1,397 acres, shuts down SR 20

Every year, thousands of people from Washington visit Maui.

President Joe Biden spoke about the Hawaii wildfires while traveling in Salt Lake City Thursday, pledging that federal disaster response will ensure that “anyone who’s lost a loved one, or whose home has been damaged or destroyed, is going to get help immediately.”

Biden promised to streamline requests for federal assistance and said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was “surging emergency personnel” on Maui. He also ordered all available Coast Guard and Air Force personnel on the island to work with the Hawaii National Guard to help.

“Our prayers are with the people of Hawaii. But not just our prayers. Every asset we have will be available to them,” Biden said.

Contributing: Lisa Brooks, KIRO Newsradio; Ranji Sinha and Bridget Chavez, KIRO 7; The Associated Press

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Washington residents, visitors change course as fire decimates parts of Maui