updated 10/29/2007 12:36:00 AM ET 2007-10-29T04:36:00

Brush fires that appeared to be the work of arsonists burned out of control Sunday along the coast of Hawaii’s largest island, sending hundreds of people fleeing inland, officials said.

No homes were damaged and no one was injured, but officials on the Big Island worried the fires could approach residential areas with a slight change in Hawaii’s temperamental breezes, said Duane Hosaka, staff officer for Hawaii County Civil Defense.

Nine fires appear to have been set in dry grasses along coastal roads early Sunday, Hosaka said. The evacuation order affected an estimated 400 people.

The fires were apparently started within minutes of one another by one or more motorists who lit dry grasses, Hosaka said.

The blazes covered more than 2,000 acres, or more than 3 square miles, near the northwestern tip of the island and were not contained, Hosaka said. More than 60 fire departments were involved.

“It’s still burning out of control,” Hosaka said. “If they were to go back home and the fire were still burning ... and we had to close the roads, they wouldn’t have any way of getting out.”

Many of the beachfront homes whos residents were told to leave were used as vacation rentals, Hosaka said. Police and firefighters went door to door early Sunday telling sleeping residents they had to leave, he said.

Two shelters were opened at a school and community center, Hosaka said.

“If the fires continue through the evening, we’ll have to open up a third shelter,” said Big Island Mayor Harry Kim.

Several parks were closed and campers had to evacuate, but no count was available.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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