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Hawaii wildfires leave ‘utter devastation’ in Lahaina: Recap

None of the wildfires are 100% contained, officials said Thursday night. NBC News is on location covering the devastation.

Coverage on this live blog has ended. Please follow our updates here.

More of the Maui wildfire that devastated the town of Lahaina was contained Thursday, but as the damage became clearer Hawaii’s governor said the disaster will likely be historic.

“What we saw was likely the largest natural disaster in Hawaii state history,” Gov. Josh Green said. He compared it to the tsunami that struck the Big Island in 1960, killing 61 people.

The number of people confirmed dead in the wildfires rose Friday to 55, but officials don’t know how many people died in the fire in and around Lahaina or how many people may still be missing. Recovery of remains is expected to take days and weeks, the governor said.

The fire that struck Lahaina was 80% contained Thursday, officials said. None of three fires burning were 100% contained, Maui County Fire Chief Brad Ventura said.

Green said the damage from the fires was “without a doubt” in the billions of dollars.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration and ordered additional federal aid. Green said that will allow rental assistance and FEMA grants to people, and aid to small businesses.

What to know about the wildfires:

  • The deaths of 55 people have been confirmed from fires that tore through Maui, and mass evacuations continue for visitors and residents.
  • Six fires are burning on Maui and the Big Island. Officials reported progress in battling the blazes, saying the Lahaina fire is now 80% contained.
  • Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said the fires are likely to be the largest natural disaster in the state’s history.
  • President Joe Biden pledged that the federal disaster response will ensure that “anyone who’s lost a loved one, whose home has been damaged or destroyed, is going to get help immediately.”
  • NBC News' Miguel Almaguer and Dana Griffin are reporting from Maui.

Also Thursday, some airlines sent help. United canceled flights so empty planes could be flown to Maui to help tourists and other visitors leave. Alaska Airlines said it was sending rescue flights. County officials have asked visitors to leave in order to focus on the crisis.

California and Nevada said they were sending urban search and rescue teams, including dogs.

The death toll as it is currently known makes it one of the deadliest wildfires in American history.

The Camp Fire in California that devastated the town of Paradise in 2018 killed 85 people. That fire has been called the deadliest wildfire in U.S. history in the previous 100 years. It was the deadliest and most destructive in California state history, according to state officials.

51d ago / 7:29 AM UTC

Death toll rises to at least 55

The number of people confirmed to have died in the devastating Maui fire is now 55, local officials said early Friday.

"As firefighting efforts continue, 2 additional fatalities have been confirmed today amid the active Lahaina fire," Maui county said in a news release.

51d ago / 7:25 AM UTC
51d ago / 5:33 AM UTC
51d ago / 5:11 AM UTC

Lahaina's historic banyan tree smoldering but still standing, U.S. Sen. Schatz posts

51d ago / 4:51 AM UTC

Lahaina mourns loss of culture, community mainstays for Native Hawaiians.

Residents of Lahaina are mourning the loss of nearly all their cultural institutions. Among them is a 200-year-old church, which Native Hawaiians say has been a mainstay in their community for centuries.

“It was a gathering place, it was a staple of Lahaina,” said Kūhiō Lewis, the CEO of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement. “Like when you think of Seattle, you think of the Space Needle. In Lahaina, it was that church.” 

Waiola Church has been standing since Lahaina was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii in the 1800s, he said. It just celebrated its 200th anniversary this year. It was the main location of community meetings both in the 1820s and the 2020s, and it was the burial site of early members of the Hawaiian royal family. 

One of the first marks of Christianity on Maui, it’s now listed as permanently closed on Google Maps.

Read the full story here.

51d ago / 4:19 AM UTC

Emergency doctor describes treating Maui fire victims in shelters

Within two hours of learning about the explosive wildfires in Maui, Dr. Reza Danesh had stocked his mobile medical clinic with antibiotics, food and water. He set out for Lahaina, a community now almost entirely devastated by the flames.

Danesh said he spent 14 hours Wednesday driving people to evacuation shelters, treating them in his mobile clinic and helping triage evacuees. One woman he treated was covered in small burns. She told him she jumped into the ocean to avoid the flames, along with her neighbors — one of whom died, she said.

“I heard that story, and I was just so sad,” Danesh said. “There she was, keeping her spirits, and her pets had all died, and she had nothing, and I’m taking care of her wounds.”

Read the full story here.

51d ago / 4:02 AM UTC
51d ago / 3:29 AM UTC

None of wildfires that broke out Tuesday are 100% contained

Progress has been made in the deadliest of the Maui wildfires that broke out Tuesday, but none were fully contained, and spot fires continued to break out, the Maui County fire chief said.

The Lahaina fire, which began Tuesday morning and devastated the town of the same name, was 80% contained today, officials said.

Several fires broke out Tuesday starting shortly after midnight, fueled by high winds, Maui County Fire Chief Brad Ventura said. Wind gusts of 60 mph were observed during the Lahaina fire, he said.

“Additionally, we’ve had many small fires in between these large fires,” he said at a news conference.

Ventura said the burn areas are still very hazardous.

"Things are falling every minute around us, and there have been some people hurt by falling telephone poles," he said.

51d ago / 2:57 AM UTC

Drone footage shows devastation in Lahaina

51d ago / 2:49 AM UTC

Rebuilding Lahaina ‘is going to take many years’

It will be years before the West Maui town of Lahaina is rebuilt, and so much was damaged that it will be a new community, Green said today.

A wasteland of burned out homes and obliterated communities is left on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii, following a stubborn blaze, one of the deadliest in the U.S. in recent years.
An aerial view of destroyed buildings in Lahaina, Hawaii, on Thursday.Rick Bowmer / AP

“When you see full extent of the destruction of Lahaina, it will shock you,” the governor said at a news conference.

Green said the damage in Maui due to wind-fueled wildfires will be in the billions of dollars.

“It does appear like a bomb and fire went off, if I may. And all of those buildings virtually are going to have to be rebuilt,” he said.

51d ago / 2:24 AM UTC

Total number of people killed and missing is unknown

The recovery of remains of those killed in a devastating wildfire that struck Lahaina is expected to take days and go into weeks, officials said today as they asked for patience.

So far 53 deaths have been confirmed after the fire in the Lahaina town area, Maui County Police Chief John Pelletier said. There are other fires in other parts of Maui.

“There will be active recovery over the coming days and weeks of the bones of those who have been lost,” Green said.

Pelletier said Lahaina was considered “sacred ground.”

“We have to respect the fact that we’ve got loved ones in that earth, and we’ve got to do the right thing and get them out the right way. That’s going to take time,” he said.

Officials also don’t know exactly how many people are missing, Pelletier said.

51d ago / 2:05 AM UTC

‘We are going to need to house thousands of people,’ Hawaii governor says

Hotels and residents from across Hawaii will be asked to house thousands of people displaced by devastating wildfires that have struck Maui, the governor said.

State officials will initially seek 2,000 rooms and will ask not only hotels but also residents who have space, like guest houses called ohanas.

“If you have additional space in your home, if you have the capacity to take someone in from West Maui, please do,” Green said.

Green toured the devastated town of Lahaina and said probably “well over” 1,000 buildings had been destroyed.

51d ago / 1:59 AM UTC

Maui fires likely to be largest natural disaster in state history

The fires that have devastated the town of Lahaina and killed at least 53 people are likely to be the largest natural disaster in Hawaii's history as a state, Gov. Josh Green said today.

Green said the scope of the disaster may exceed that of the tsunami that struck the island of Hawaii and killed 61 people in 1960, one year after Hawaii became a state.

The 1960 tsunami was caused by a 9.5-magnitude earthquake.

Image: A man walks past wildfire wreckage on Aug. 9, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii.
A man walks past wildfire wreckage, in Lahaina, Hawaii, on Wednesday. Tiffany Kidder Winn via AP

Green said the damage he saw today in Lahaina was “catastrophic.”

"What we saw was the utter devastation of Lahaina," he said, adding, "What we saw was likely the largest natural disaster in Hawaii state history."

51d ago / 1:33 AM UTC

‘Well over 1,000 buildings’ destroyed in Maui fires

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green estimated there are probably “well over 1,000 buildings” destroyed in Maui wildfires that have also killed dozens of people.

An aerial image taken on August 10, 2023 shows destroyed homes and buildings burned to the ground in Lahaina in the aftermath of wildfires in western Maui, Hawaii. At least 36 people have died after a fast-moving wildfire turned Lahaina to ashes, officials said August 9, 2023 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.
An aerial image taken on Thursday shows destroyed homes and buildings burned to the ground in Lahaina in the aftermath of wildfires in western Maui, Hawaii.Patrick T. Fallon / AFP - Getty Images

“Many, many hundreds of families have been displaced,” Green said in a video posted to social media after he witnessed some of the devastation in Lahaina.

“This is devastating for Maui,” Green said. He said the number of deaths is expected to increase.

52d ago / 12:58 AM UTC

‘We just barely got out,’ says woman who escaped Maui fire

MAUI, Hawaii — Yesterday, when Bill Thornquest and Martha Roberts got an alert on their phones that a community across the highway was being evacuated, they went outside to take a look.

“By the time we tried to get back to our house, we couldn’t. So we just had to keep moving,” Thornquest, 70, said today. “So we walked ahead of the fire.”

They are safe at Maui High School, the largest evacuation center in Maui, and Roberts said she feels blessed. “I’ve seen several friends, so I know they’re still here,” she said.

“We just barely got out,” Roberts said. “There were ashes, embers, everything flying through the air.”

One of their neighbors, Mike, texted them the news that their home in Lahaina had been destroyed.

“But we’re still here, and Mike’s still here,” Roberts said.

52d ago / 12:48 AM UTC

Travelers at O’Hare recount leaving Maui


CHICAGO — Ryan Tavenner said the first five vacation days in Maui were wonderful, but "it went from paradise to the complete opposite pretty quick. And then the fires came."

"It was just surreal, to be honest,” Tavenner said today after he returned to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

Tavenner was one of many tourists who left Maui after the deadly wildfires engulfed Lahaina. Maui officials has asked all visitors to leave because of the crisis.

The winds from Hurricane Dora, which passed far to the south, knocked out power, Tavenner said. When the fires started Tuesday, he said, he saw thick black billowing smoke from around a mile away.

Wednesday, there was a knock on the door at 3 a.m., and he and his family were told to evacuate. “He said go north,” Tavenner said.

“I’ve never witnessed it before, besides on TV — from it to go from a small brushfire to burning down neighborhoods,” Tavenner said. "It's heart-wrenching."

Charlie Newman, a student at the University of Chicago, was visiting his parents on Maui. They tried to go to the airport Tuesday afternoon but turned around because of traffic from what they thought was a small contained brushfire, intending to try again yesterday morning.

Then all cell service went out. Yesterday morning on the highway, there was “just a mass exodus of people, just inching along the highway, parked on the side of the road,” he said. They eventually drove around Maui on the north road to the airport.

"Obviously, there are a lot of people who had just tremendous tragedies, so thoughts and prayers are with them for sure," he said.

52d ago / 12:01 AM UTC
52d ago / 11:32 PM UTC

53 deaths now confirmed on Maui

The death toll from the wildfires on Maui has climbed to 53, officials said.

Seventeen additional deaths were discovered in the wildfire that struck Lahaina, a town of around 12,000 in western Maui, raising the number of confirmed deaths from the previous number of 36, Maui County said.

52d ago / 11:26 PM UTC

Maui man who lost home vows, 'Lahaina will come back — may be 10 years, but it’ll be back'

LAHAINA, Hawaii — Patrick Sullivan says he waited too long to leave his home as fires engulfed Lahaina in western Maui. But as winds reached 40 to 60 mph and smoke made it hard to breathe, he couldn’t wait anymore.

He has since returned to find his home, which was about 2,000 square feet, and a guest house called an ohana burned to the ground.

“It’s our life right here,” Sullivan said. His home and the homes of his two adult children and three grandchildren were also lost.

Sullivan’s dad moved them from Oregon to Honolulu in 1962, and then the family moved to Maui in 1969. “Grandkids are here, fourth generation. And this happened,” he said.

Five homes in his neighborhood were destroyed in the fire, which devastated much of Lahaina, a town of around 12,000.

Sullivan, who owns a real estate business, is optimistic.

“We’re going to move forward. It’s going to be positive,” Sullivan said. “Lahaina will come back — may be 10 years, but it’ll be back."

"Right here, it's pretty tough," he said. "But we'll make it."

52d ago / 10:53 PM UTC

Taking stock of what remains in Lahaina

52d ago / 10:36 PM UTC
52d ago / 9:44 PM UTC

California sending help

52d ago / 9:23 PM UTC

Lahaina fire 80% contained

The wildfire that devastated Maui's historic seaside town of Lahaina is 80% contained, the county government said today.

The Lahaina fire is one of six raging on Maui and the Big Island, but firefighters appear to also be making progress elsewhere on Maui. The county government reported that the Pulehu fire is 70% contained.

Officials are assessing the Upcountry fire as they focus on the areas of Olinda and Upper Kula.

"State forestry workers were leading the firefighting effort in the Olinda area," a release said. "On the Kula side, the fire is most active in gulches that are difficult to access."

52d ago / 9:21 PM UTC

Drought and wind: How Maui’s wildfires turned into a historic tragedy

The catastrophic wildfires in Hawaii were fueled by severe drought conditions and fierce, hurricane-strength winds — a confluence of extremes amplified by climate change that experts say quickly turned a bad situation into a worst-case scenario.

The precise cause of the wildfires is not yet known, emergency officials said yesterday. They were worsened in part by strong easterly trade winds whipped up by Hurricane Dora.

“Our most disastrous wildfires in U.S. history have been associated with extremely strong wind events,” said Crystal Kolden, a pyrogeographer and associate professor at the University of California, Merced, who once worked as a wildland firefighter.

But it was how those strong winds interacted with Maui’s mountainous topography that created such volatile fire conditions in the town of Lahaina, she said.

Read the full story here.

52d ago / 9:12 PM UTC

Mental health services expanded for wildfire victims

Mental health services are being expanded through the Maui Community Mental Health Center for wildfire victims, the state Health Department said.

“The Maui Community Mental Health Center has been serving the community since 1967 and understands that disasters of this magnitude can affect the mental well-being of our community,” it said in a statement.

Officials encourage the public to reach out for help; services include mental health counseling, trauma processing, psychiatric services and resource guidance. Clinic hours will be 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday, an expansion to help accommodate immediate needs.

52d ago / 8:44 PM UTC
52d ago / 8:37 PM UTC

'We are still in life preservation mode'

Officials are still trying to get a handle on the fires’ progress but know they’re not fully contained, Hawaii Emergency Management spokesman Adam Weintraub in Honolulu said.

“We are still in life preservation mode. Search-and-rescue is still a primary concern,” he said. “Our search-and-rescue teams from Maui and supporting agencies are not able to do their job until the fire lines are secure and they’re sure that they’re going to be able to get to those areas safely.”

He asked for patience as officials try to get control of the crisis.

“I think that there is a great temptation to shift immediately to what went wrong, who’s to blame. What we have here is a natural disaster,” he said. “There may have been questions that need to be examined about whether it was handled in the right way. But we still got people in danger. We still have people who don’t have homes. We still have people who can’t find their loved ones.”

52d ago / 8:23 PM UTC
52d ago / 7:59 PM UTC
52d ago / 7:45 PM UTC

Hawaii honors dead by flying flags at half-staff

The state capitol in Honolulu will fly the Hawaii and U.S. flags at half-staff until further notice by order of Gov. Josh Green.

Green issued the order to represent the state's mourning of the dozens of people killed in the fires raging on the island chain.

As first responders continue their search-and-rescue operations, it's possible the death toll will climb.

52d ago / 7:39 PM UTC

Roughly 2,000 acres burned in 6 fires, officials said

There are six active fires on Maui and the Big Island, where roughly 2,000 acres have already burned, Hawaii Emergency Management said.

The acreage lost is likely to climb, officials say, as aerial damage assessment continues.

Officials are urging the public to beware of scams but encourage sending monetary donations as many families have lost everything to the wildfires.

52d ago / 6:57 PM UTC
52d ago / 6:07 PM UTC

President Biden: Maui 'is going to get help immediately'

President Joe Biden addressed the “devastating wildfires” in Hawaii at the top of his remarks today on the first anniversary of the PACT Act.

“Anyone who’s lost a loved one, whose home has been damaged or destroyed, is going to get help immediately,” Biden said at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City.

Biden commended the “brave” firefighters, first responders and emergency personnel who have been “working around the clock” and are “risking their lives” responding to the wildfires that have led to at least 36 deaths. He noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is coordinating disaster assistance and said he has directed all available federal assets to assist local emergency response crews to work “as quickly as possible to fight these fires and evacuate residents and tourists.”

“In the meantime, our prayers are with the people of Hawaii — but not just our prayers,” he said. “Every asset we have will be available in them. And we’ve seen their homes, their businesses, destroyed, and some have lost loved ones. And it’s not over yet.”

52d ago / 5:30 PM UTC

Mass evacuations launched north of burned Maui town

A mass evacuation effort resumed Thursday for visitors and residents stranded just north of a historic town in Maui that was destroyed by a wildfire this week, officials said.

Buses will pick up people in Kaanapali, north of Lahaina, taking visitors directly to the Kahului Airport and residents to a shelter in central Maui, the county of Maui announced on Facebook.

The wildfires, driven by strong winds from a hurricane passing far to the south of the island chain, raced through Lahaina and other parts of Maui on Tuesday night. At least 36 people died and dozens more were injured, officials said, and more than 271 structures were damaged or destroyed. The fire is the deadliest since the 2018 Camp Fire in California, which killed at least 85 people and virtually razed the town of Paradise.

The main road that runs along the western coastline of Maui — also the only road in and out of Lahaina — was closed to most traffic while firefighting and emergency rescue efforts continued.

52d ago / 5:00 PM UTC


52d ago / 5:00 PM UTC

134 Guardsmen sent to Hawaii for wildfire response

More than 100 National Guardsmen have been sent to Hawaii to assist with the wildfire response, according to Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Devin Robinson.

The Army National Guard has activated 99 of its members and the Air National Guard will provide another 35 members to assist. The support will include assistance to Hawaii Emergency Management and local law enforcement.

Guardsmen will also assist in search and rescue operations.

52d ago / 4:51 PM UTC

Biden approves Hawaii disaster declaration

President Joe Biden approved Hawaii's disaster declaration, opening federal funding to Maui County, and to state and local recovery efforts.

The funds can include temporary housing grants and loans to cover uninsured property losses, according to a press release. He also said that funds are available for debris removal and "emergency protective measures."

"Damage assessments are continuing, and additional forms of assistance may be designated after the assessments are fully completed," Biden said.

52d ago / 4:30 PM UTC

Vice President Kamala Harris offers message of support to Maui victims

Vice President Kamala Harris offered her support and prayers to Maui wildfire victims Thursday.

“Doug and I are thinking about the families and communities devastated by the wildfires in Lahaina and across Maui,” she tweeted. “We pray for the heroic first responders who are fighting to protect the island and save lives.”

“Our Administration has ordered federal support for response and rescue efforts in Hawaii, and we urge all residents to follow local alerts and instructions during this difficult time,” she added.

52d ago / 4:23 PM UTC

Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest Airlines providing $19 flights for evacuees

Hawaiian Airlines announced in a tweet Wednesday that it will continue to operate flights for urgent travel between Maui and Honolulu for $19.

The airline said it is also "coordinating with the state, county and non-profits to transport first responders, equipment and supplies to Maui."

Southwest Airlines is also providing $19 flights under its base fare "Wanna Get Away" option. A search for flights on Southwest's website shows the cheap one-way tickets from Maui are available to other areas in the island chain, including Honolulu and Kona.

52d ago / 4:01 PM UTC

Lahaina was once the political, economic center of the Hawaiian Kingdom

The town of Lahaina, which has been largely reduced to ashes as wildfires continue to devastate the area, was once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

It was recognized as the kingdom's political center in 1802, after King Kamehameha conquered several islands on the archipelago. Throughout the 1800s, the whaling and fishing industries in the area took off, making Lahaina a global trade hub. 

It remained a political center of Hawaii until the capital was moved to Honolulu in 1845 and the U.S. began its efforts to colonize the kingdom, eventually usurping its government in 1887 and overthrowing the queen in a coup years later. 

“Our home is on fire right now. There needs to be more action and more investment,” said Kaniela Ing, who’s seventh-generation Kānaka Maoli, or Indigenous Hawaiian, and grew up in the area. “People hit first and worse by the climate crisis tend to be Black, indigenous and low income. Yet we’re the keepers of the knowledge of how to build a society that wouldn’t cause ecological collapse and societal doom.”

52d ago / 3:44 PM UTC

Severe drought conditions rose this week in Maui County

About 16% of Maui County’s population was under “severe drought” conditions Tuesday, according to data from the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday. 

That’s an uptick from 5.6% last week. 

Drought levels across Hawaii also increased, with statewide moderate drought levels rising from 6% to 14% in the last week, according to agency data.

The increased drought severity may have contributed to the dry vegetation, which, coupled with Dora's winds and low humidity, caught fire.

52d ago / 3:30 PM UTC

Almost 11,000 customers still without power in Maui

As of 4 a.m. local time (10 a.m. ET) Thursday, over 10,900 customers are without power in Maui, according to

That’s a decrease from the 12,400 customers who were offline in West Maui on Wednesday afternoon.

There are no other major outages across the Hawaiian islands. 

Hawaiian Electric asked for "patience" in Maui on Wednesday, saying it would "move our restoration efforts to other areas if and as they become safe and accessible.”

52d ago / 3:15 PM UTC

Lahaina with little internet access after fires

Lahaina's access to the internet has been almost entirely severed due to the recent fires.

NetBlocks, a digital watchdog that tracks internet access, said Thursday that the community "remains largely disconnected from the internet" and that the outages are likely to hinder rescue efforts.

52d ago / 2:52 PM UTC

Evacuations, alerts lifted in Big Island

All mandatory evacuations were lifted as of 8 p.m. local time Wednesday (2 a.m. ET Thursday) in Big Island. The worst of the wildfires are blazing in the island of Maui. 

In Big Island, all roads were opened to traffic and emergency evacuation shelters were closed. 

52d ago / 2:29 PM UTC

San Francisco mayor was in Maui when wildfires erupted


San Francisco Mayor London Breed was in Maui for a personal trip when the wildfires exploded, her office said Thursday. 

The mayor left the island and is now in Oahu, following the Hawaii governor’s order encouraging visitors to depart the island due to the blazes. 

“The Mayor was never in danger. This wildfire is devastating to witness and our thoughts are with the people of Maui,” press secretary Parisa Safarzadeh said in a statement. 

52d ago / 2:06 PM UTC

Officials warn wildfire death toll could climb

Officials in Hawaii warned Thursday that the death toll — already at 36 — could rise, with the fires still burning and teams spreading out to search charred areas.

Search and rescue teams are fanning out in the devastated areas in the hopes of finding survivors, Adam Weintraub, communications director for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Addressing the fear that there could be additional deaths, he acknowledged that “these were large and fast-moving fires, and it’s only recently that we’ve started to get our arms around them and contain them. So, we’re hoping for the best, but we’re prepared for the worst.”

52d ago / 1:30 PM UTC

52d ago / 1:29 PM UTC

How Maui’s fire death toll compares to California’s past deadly wildfires

Thirty-six people have died in the Maui County wildfires, officials said Thursday, as blazes continue to rage in the Hawaiian island.

In comparison to California's history of destructive and deadly fires, it ranks second on the list of the top 20 deadliest.

The 2018 Camp Fire killed 85, the 1993 Griffith Park blaze killed 29, and the Tunnel Fire of 1991 left 25 dead, according to Cal Fire records.

The fires in Maui also outpace the death toll of recent wildfires including the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Northern California that killed 22, the 2020 North Complex Fire that killed 16 and the LNU Complex Fire, also in 2020, that left six dead. 

52d ago / 1:06 PM UTC

Airline companies sending planes to help evacuate stranded passengers

United Airlines and American Airlines said Thursday they are sending planes to Maui to evacuate passengers whose travel plans were upended by wildfires blazing in the island.

“We’ve canceled today’s inbound flights to Kahului Airport so our planes can fly empty to Maui and be used as passenger flights back to the mainland,” United said in a statement.

The airline said it’s monitoring the situation “closely” and “emphasizing safety as always and checking on the welfare of our employees on Maui.”

American Airlines said it expects to operate all of Thursday's scheduled flights to and from Kahului Airport.

The airline said it “added an additional flight and upgraded an aircraft today to ensure customers evacuating are able to do so.”

American Airlines customers whose travel plans were affected by the wildfires are able to rebook without fees, cancel or receive a refund. 

52d ago / 1:00 PM UTC

Despite weather warnings, fires were impossible to predict: Hawaii official

Warnings of high winds and the potential for extreme fire behavior were issued Tuesday, but where the fires would spark was impossible to predict, Adam Weintraub, Emergency Management Agency Communication director, said Thursday.

"You can’t tell exactly where a tree is going to go down. You can’t tell when a roof is going to come off and land on a power line. You can’t tell when somebody’s going to hit a rock with a lawn mower and spark a blaze," he said on NBC's "TODAY" show Thursday.

"We were seeing gusty winds that were up to 80 mph and when you get a flame in dry vegetation, in low humidity, in that kind of a wind environment, the flames can go anywhere," he said.

Efforts to quell the flames and get people to safety continue.

"We are hoping for the best but we’re not sure what the outcome will be," he said.

52d ago / 12:42 PM UTC
52d ago / 12:19 PM UTC

3 active fires burning in Maui

Three fires remain active in Maui in Lahaina, Pulehu and Upcountry, the County of Maui said in a 10:30 p.m. local time (4:30 a.m. ET) update.

The Maui Fire Department reported “no significant changes” on the three fires, and there are no new evacuations. No containment estimates were available. 

The fire department will conduct an assessment at first light Thursday, officials said.

The county said firefighters have been facing “multiple flare-ups” and additional firefighters were requested from Honolulu. Overnight, 30 U.S. Army service members arrived on the island and will conduct search and recovery efforts Thursday morning.

52d ago / 12:14 PM UTC

'Minutes to escape': Maui resident recalls fleeing home and reuniting with family

Maui resident Dustin Kaleiopu said he and his family had just “minutes to escape” their home before fire consumed it. 

At first, Tuesday morning seemed normal; it was windy and the electricity went out, which isn't uncommon, Kaleiopu told NBC’s “TODAY” on Thursday.

“By 3:30 p.m., the smoke had started to get thicker … and it started to make its way closer to our home. We could hear the explosions happening around the block from the gas station and from businesses. By 4:30 p.m., our neighbor’s yard was on fire,” he said.

“We had minutes to escape because an hour later, we would find out that our home had burned completely to the ground,” he added. 

His father, who had no way of communicating with Kaleiopu, had returned to the home after work to search for his family, and found the house “completely burned to the ground.”

Kaleiopu's brother waited on the side of a highway on his father's route home and flagged him down and the family was ultimately reunited, he said.

Kaleiopu said that in a matter of just 36 hours, his town is gone and his world as he knew it altered. 

“Every single person that I work with, the people that I see at the bank, the grocery store, everyone I know is now homeless. In 36 hours, our town has been burnt to ash. There’s nothing left,” he said.

52d ago / 11:40 AM UTC
52d ago / 11:34 AM UTC

Photo: Stranded passengers at Kahului Airport in Maui

Passengers try to sleep below a “Welcome To Maui” billboard while waiting for delayed and canceled flights at the Kahului Airport on Wednesday.

Wildfire in Hawaii
Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images
52d ago / 10:46 AM UTC

52d ago / 10:41 AM UTC

More than 2,000 people are seeking refuge in shelters

Some 2,100 people are staying in shelters in Maui overnight following a mass evacuation of residents and tourists, Maui County has confirmed.

Tourists were evacuated from the Sheraton Maui Resort in Ka’anapali on Wednesday, and evacuations would resume Thursday, according to the statement posted around 4:45 a.m. ET.

Service members from the U.S. Army arrived Wednesday night and were “conducting search and recovery efforts” early Wednesday, the statement said.

52d ago / 10:25 AM UTC

Lahaina resident overcome with grief after losing her home

Steff Baku-Kirkman covers her face after hearing reports her home and her pets were destroyed, in Lahaina on Wednesday.

Wildfires driven by high winds hit Hawaiian island of Maui
Marco Garcia / Reuters
52d ago / 10:16 AM UTC

Warning of high winds lifted as effects of Dora ease

A warning of high winds across Hawaii was lifted early Thursday, as the effects of Dora begin to ease.

A high pressure weather system will bring "moderate to locally breezy trade winds across the region," but wind speeds will decrease to moderate throughout Thursday, the National Weather Service in Honolulu said in an update.

Winds of up to 85 mph had stopped helicopters dropping water on the raging fires in Maui until Wednesday, when some 150,000 gallons were used to battel the flames.

52d ago / 9:21 AM UTC

Smoke fills the air on Lahaina shoreline

Smoke billows as wildfires driven by high winds destroy a large part of the historic town of Lahaina on Wednesday

Wildfires driven by high winds hit Hawaiian island of Maui
Dustin Johnson via Reuters
52d ago / 9:19 AM UTC

Tourism chief: Maui is devastated, but the rest of Hawaii is open

While the intense fires still rage in Maui, Hawaiian authorities are keen to tell the world that it is business as usual for the rest of the islands.

"What happened in western Maui is devastating. It’s really, really sad and our prayers go out the families. But I also want people know who are traveling to Hawaii and who are already here, the rest of Hawaii is open," Jimmy Tokioka, director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, told a news conference Thursday.

More than 11,000 people have been evacuated from Maui so far and at least 36 people have been confirmed dead.

52d ago / 8:55 AM UTC

52d ago / 8:42 AM UTC

150,000 gallons of water and military helicopters battled blazes

The fight to suppress the wildfires blazing in Maui has used more than 150,000 gallons of water so far, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, who is leading the military response, told a news conference Wednesday night.

Helicopters have been battling the flames, but their intervention Wednesday was delayed by high winds of up to 85 mph, which are too strong for helicopters to fly, he said.

52d ago / 8:15 AM UTC

At least 36 killed in Maui County fires, officials confirm

The death toll in Maui County has risen to 36, according to a statement from the county Thursday, which said the bodies had been discovered during firefighting efforts against the Lahaina fire.

It added that "no other details are available at this time."

52d ago / 8:10 AM UTC
52d ago / 7:59 AM UTC

11,000 people already evacuated from Maui, more to leave Friday

More than 11,000 people have been evacuated from Maui since the devastating wildfires caused untold destruction on the island this week.

Ed Sniffen, director of the Hawaii Department of Transport, told a news conference after 8 p.m. Wednesday local time (3 a.m. Thursday ET) that 11,400 people had been flown out so far, with 2,000 expected to leave Friday.

Some 600 people were staying at the airport overnight in anticipation of leaving on the first flight available, he said. More people would have left Maui, he said, but the main highway was closed due to the ferocity of the flames, though it has since reopened.

52d ago / 7:46 AM UTC

Fire, smoke and chaos — a closeup view of Maui's inferno

MAUI — As the fast-moving wildfires ripped through the west of Maui, some people resorted to sprinting down to the Pacific Ocean and jumping into the water to escape the roaring flames.

“I was the last one off the dock,” Dustin Johnson said. “When the firestorm came through,” he added, it “took everything with it.”

The Coast Guard said it plucked around a dozen people out of the ocean, with the fires spreading right down to the water and destroying boats.

NBC News was able to reach this former tourist paradise turned fiery hellscape and see the destruction being wrought in real time. Deep orange flames and thick black smoke dominated this once-tropical idyll, where many people have lost everything.

At least six people have been killed in the rapidly spreading flames, with first responders unable to reach some areas and authorities are fearful they will find more bodies among the rubble of destroyed buildings.

“When you see, you know, some auntie on the ground, probably dead, and you can’t get in contact with your family, you just think the worst,” said Clint Hansen, another of those attempting to escape.

As hospitals filled up with wounded people, cell coverage and power were down in some areas, creating chaos amid the panic. Late Wednesday, authorities here said 4,000 people are trying to evacuate the island, as three major fires still rage.

52d ago / 7:18 AM UTC
52d ago / 7:01 AM UTC

Obama says he’s thinking of those affected, shares way to help

Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama are thinking of all those affected by the wildfires in the state of Hawaii, and shared a way to help with his more than 131 million followers on social media.

Obama was born in Honolulu and spent his childhood there, although for a time he was in Indonesia.

“Michelle and I are thinking of everyone who has lost a loved one, or whose life has been turned upside down,” Obama wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

52d ago / 6:55 AM UTC

Wildfire decimates Lahaina, once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom

A historic seaside town that once was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii has been largely reduced to ash as wildfires continued to rip through the state Wednesday. 

Hawaiians say Lahaina’s disaster leaves them mourning the loss of a place dense with Native Hawaiian history and culture — and they’re bracing for what the tragedy will mean for their communities in the long term. 

“People are worried about their loved ones, their homes, their businesses, their jobs,” said David Aiona Chang, who is Native Hawaiian and a professor of history at the University of Minnesota. “So many of the disasters that hit Hawaii hit Native Hawaiians the hardest. It’s something that we are going to be dealing with for a long time.”

Read the full story here.

52d ago / 6:55 AM UTC

Satellite images capture fire devastation in Lahaina

Satellite images captured the devastation in Maui on Wednesday after a wildfire tore through Lahaina, a popular vacation destination on the island’s west coast that was once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

In one image from the company Maxar Technologies, the historic area of Banyan Court — home to the island’s oldest living banyan tree, at 150 years old — appears to have mostly been reduced to ash.

Before and after satellite views of southern Lahaina, Maui, from left, June 25, 2023 to Aug. 9, 2023.
Satellite images show southern Lahaina, Maui, on June 25, left, and Wednesday, right.Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies

Other images showed similar devastation in and around Lahaina Square, a shopping area, and a neighborhood on the southern end of the town.

Read the full story here.

52d ago / 6:54 AM UTC

Coast Guard rescues 14 who took shelter in ocean from Maui wildfires

With a wildfire fueled by winds from a passing hurricane destroying the Maui town of Lahaina, 14 people escaped the flames and smoke by heading to the ocean, officials said Wednesday.

The 14 people were rescued by the Coast Guard from a breakwall by Lahaina harbor Tuesday evening, after boats and aircraft were sent to help, the Coast Guard said in a statement Wednesday.

In this photo provided by Brantin Stevens smoke fill the air from wild fires at Lahaina harbor on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023 in Hawaii. Fire was widespread in Lahaina Town, including on Front Street, a popular shopping and dining area, County of Maui spokesperson Mahina Martin said by phone early Wednesday. Traffic has been very heavy as people try to evacuate the area, and officials asked people who weren’t in an evacuation area to shelter in place to avoid adding to the traffic, she said.
Wildfire smoke rises at Lahaina harbor in Hawaii, on Tuesday.Brantin Stevens via AP

The reports to the Coast Guard “regarding multiple persons in the water needing rescue after taking shelter from fire and smoke in Lahaina” prompted the dispatch of a cutter, a 45-foot boat and helicopters, the agency said.

Read the full story here.