Maui wildfires kill 6, destroy historic tourist town Lahaina

Wildfires that ignited on the Hawaiian island of Maui late Tuesday burned through the night and into Wednesday, killing at least six people, forcing hurried evacuations, and devastating the historic tourist town of Lahaina. Several people were flown to Oahu or Honolulu with burns or other medical emergencies, and the Coast Guard rescued 14 people, including two children, who fled into the ocean to escape the flames.

Lahania, a town of 12,000 people and a popular tourist spot with buildings dating back to the 1700s, "is almost totally burnt to the ground," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said Wednesday. "Firefighters are still trying to get the fires under control, and our first responders are in search-and-rescue mode." Richard Olsten, a helicopter pilot for a tourist company who flew over Lahania on Wednesday, said it looked like somebody dropped a bomb on the town.

"It's horrifying. I've flown here 52 years and I've never seen anything come close to that," Olsten told The Associated Press. "We had tears in our eyes, the other pilots on board and the mechanics, and me."

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The three wildfires on Maui, plus three others on the main island Hawaii, were fueled by a combination of drought, low precipitation, and high winds from Hurricane Dora, which passed 500 miles south of Hawaii on Tuesday. "We expected rain, we expected floods" from Dora, Lt Gov. Sylvia Luke said Wednesday. "We never anticipated in this state that a hurricane that did not make impact on our islands would cause these kind of wildfires."

President Biden activated military resources, including helicopters, to help fight the fires. Luke, in her role of acting governor while Gov. Josh Green returns from a trip, issued an emergency proclamation on Wednesday. All tourists on Maui are being told to evacuate, airlines are adding flights to get stranded visitors off the island, and non-residents are being asked to stay away for now. "This is not a safe place to be," she said.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.