Maui residents can go home, but wildfire persists

Posted at 12:08 AM, Jul 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-12 23:04:12-04

Maui residents who evacuated their homes because of a wildfire can return, Maui County announced Friday on Facebook.

Maui County said in a Facebook post that the fire was 20% contained as of Friday morning. County Mayor Michael Victorino cautioned that “conditions may worsen at any time and to stay vigilant and prepared.”

Firefighters will continue to monitor the blaze that has consumed an estimated 10,000 acres of fallow former sugar cane lands and dry brush, according the county.

Gov. David Ige declared the Maui County a disaster area on Friday, which enables the state to provide “quick and efficient relief” from the damages, losses and suffering the wildfire may have caused.

“I am declaring our Valley Isle a disaster area for the purpose of implementing the emergency management functions as allowed by law,” Ige said in a statement. “The emergency proclamation also authorizes the expenditure of state monies as appropriated to support speedy and efficient relief efforts.”

The fire was reported Thursday morning at 10:42 a.m. local time near the intersection of Waiko Road and Kuihelani Highway.

Maui County activated its Emergency Operations Center in the morning. By afternoon, the flames were burning out of control and emergency officials sent a mobile alert warning nearby residents to evacuate.

More than 600 people fled as the blaze scorched 3,000 acres, the mayor’s office said. The Maui Humane Society moved its animals in crates and kennels to a nearby high school.

Helicopters were grounded after sunset, and they are expected to return to making air drops after sunrise, according to a news release from the county.

Oprah Winfrey has a home in the county and tweeted a local resident to confirm that she’s given officials fighting the fire access to her private road.

“A big mahalo to Oprah for giving Maui County access to your private road for use to assist in the Maui fire,” Gov. David Ige tweeted.

Flights at Kahului Airport were briefly diverted, but operations have returned to normal. The fire affected access to the airport, which was operating on emergency generators. The Hawaii Tourism Authority advised visitors heading to or from the airport to contact their airlines for flight status due to power issues.

Victorino said in a Friday press conference that a new brush fire in Kahului was threatening a business park and other structures. Victorino called the new fire a “very fluid situation” that firefighters did not have control of yet.

Maui Fire Services Chief Rylan Yatsushiro confirmed that some crews battling the original wildfire had been moved to battle the new fire.