HONOLULU — Wind-whipped wildfires raced through parts of Hawaii on Wednesday, burning down businesses in a historic town on the island of Maui, forcing evacuations and leading some to flee to the relative safety of the ocean, where they were rescued by the Coast Guard.
Fire was widespread in Lahaina Town, including on Front Street, an area that is popular with tourists, County of Maui spokesperson Mahina Martin said by phone early Wednesday. Traffic has been very heavy as people try to evacuate, and officials asked people who weren't in an evacuation area to shelter in place to avoid adding to the traffic, she said. Photos posted by the county overnight showed a line of flames blazing across an intersection in Lahaina and leaping above buildings in the town, whose historic district is on the National Register of Historic Places.
"Do NOT go to Lahaina Town," the county tweeted hours before all roads in and out of West Maui's biggest community were closed to everyone except emergency personnel.
The National Weather Service said Hurricane Dora, which was passing to the south of the island chain at a safe distance of 500 miles (805 kilometers), was partly to blame for gusts above 60 mph (97 kph) that knocked out power, rattled homes and grounded firefighting helicopters. Dangerous fire conditions created by strong winds and low humidity were expected to last through Wednesday afternoon, the weather service said.
The Coast Guard on Tuesday responded to areas where people had fled into the ocean to escape the fire and smoky conditions, the county said in a statement. The Coast Guard tweeted that a crew rescued 12 people from the water off Lahaina.
Acting Gov. Sylvia Luke issued an emergency proclamation on behalf of Gov. Josh Green, who is traveling, and activated the Hawaii National Guard to assist.
Officials were not aware of any deaths and knew of only one injury, a firefighter who was hospitalized in stable condition after inhaling smoke, Martin said. There's no count available for the number of structures that have burned or the number of people who have evacuated, but Martin said there were four shelters open and that more than 1,000 people were at the largest.