Evacuations are underway across Hawaii’s Big Island and Maui as passing Hurricane Dora helps fuel wildfires that have damaged structures, prompted rescues and spurred people jump into the ocean to escape danger, officials said.
In Maui County, 12 people were rescued near Lahaina after “entering the ocean due to smoke and fire conditions,” the Coast Guard and county officials said. “Individuals were transported by the Coast Guard to safe areas,” Maui County officials said in a news release.
Fire behavior in both the Lahaina and Upcountry areas of Maui has challenged crews.
“Maui Fire officials warn that erratic wind, challenging terrain, steep slopes and dropping humidity, the direction and the location of the fire conditions make it difficult to predict path and speed of a wildfire,” Maui County officials said in a Tuesday news release.
“The fire can be a mile or more from your house, but in a minute or two, it can be at your house,” Maui County Fire Assistant Chief Jeff Giesea said in the release. “Burning airborne materials can light fires a great distance away from the main body of fire.”
“Buildings on both sides were engulfed. There were no fire trucks at that point; I think the fire department was overwhelmed,” business owner Alan Dickar told the outlet. “That is the most important business street on Maui.”
Elsewhere on the island, the Upcountry fire is estimated to be about 1,000 acres, according to county officials. The cause of the fire was unknown.
Dora, a powerful Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 130 mph, was about 740 miles southwest of Honolulu as of late Tuesday (5 a.m. ET Wednesday), the National Hurricane Center said.
Two brushfires were burning Tuesday on the Big Island, officials said in a news release, one in the North Kohala District and the other in the South Kohala District. Some residents were under mandatory evacuation orders as power outages were impacting communications, the release said.
Luke, who is acting as the governor as Gov. Josh Green travels out of the state, issued an emergency proclamation related to the fires on Tuesday.
“We are closely following the wildfires caused by the strong winds of Hurricane Dora,” Luke said in a statement. “The safety of our residents is paramount, and this emergency proclamation will activate the Hawaiʻi National Guard to support emergency responders in the impacted communities.”
Green has been fully briefed on Dora and its impacts, according to the news release.
“Lieutenant Governor Luke has my full support,” Green said. “My thoughts are with the residents and businesses affected by Hurricane Dora.”
In the continental US, a brush fire Tuesday in Cedar Park, Texas, destroyed one apartment building, damaged others and prompted evacuation orders. The blaze had charred about 50 acres in the Austin suburb.