The wildfires raging out of control in Maui are so catastrophic, some residents are hurling themselves into the ocean to escape the flames.
Even emergency crews might not be able to help as the infernos – fueled in part by Hurricane Dora churning some 800 miles away – have cut off 911 services and communications in Maui.
“911 is down. Cell service is down. Phone service is down” Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke told CNN on Wednesday morning.
“Our hospital system on Maui, they are overburdened with burn patients, people suffering from inhalation,” she said. “The reality is that we need to fly people out of Maui to give them burn support because Maui hospital cannot do extensive burn treatment.”
The disaster also has wiped out power to about 14,000 homes and businesses in Maui, according to PowerOutage.us.
Clint Hansen took drone video Tuesday night that showed wildfires spreading just north of Kihei.
“Lahaina has been devastated,” Hansen told CNN. “People jumping in the ocean to escape the flames, being rescued by the Coast Guard. All boat owners are being asked to rescue people. Its apocalyptic.”
A dozen 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.
And it’s not clear where the disaster will head next.
Maui fire officials warned that erratic wind, challenging terrain, steep slopes and dropping humidity, plus the direction and the location of the fire conditions make it difficult to predict path and speed of a wildfire, according to Maui County officials.
“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. “Burning airborne materials can light fires a great distance away from the main body of fire.”
What will happen to tourists
State officials are working with hotels and a local airline to try to evacuate tourists to another island, Luke said. But severed communications have crippled efforts to reach everyone.
Maui County officials have not been able to communicate with many people on the west side – including those in the Lahaina area, Luke said.
Satellite phones have been the only reliable way to get in touch with some areas, including hotels, the lieutenant governor said.
“What we are trying to do is deploy individuals to go into areas with satellite phone service. We have only been in contact with perhaps one hotel because the one hotel, the people in charge of that hotel have satellite phones,” Luke said Wednesday morning.
“That’s the only way you can make connection. It’s impeding communication … and we are very concerned about that.”
Already, a wall of flames destroyed businesses on Front Street – a major tourist strip in the historic Maui town of Lahaina, CNN affiliate Hawaii News Now reported.
“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.
Hawaii National Guard gets deployed
Members of the Hawaii National Guard are assisting with the calamity in Maui – with more on the way.
“Hawaii National Guardsmen have been activated and are currently on Maui assisting Maui Police Department at traffic control points,” Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, Hawaii’s adjutant general, posted on Facebook.
The overnight deployment was hastened by the dynamic fire conditions, Hara wrote, adding more National Guard personnel would arrive in the counties of Maui and Hawaii later Wednesday.
Hurricane Dora’s impact on the wildfires
Dora, a powerful Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 130 mph, was about 795 miles southwest of Honolulu as of Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center said. No coastal watches or warnings were in effect.
As Dora travels south of the islands, a strong high pressure system remains in place to the north. The area of high pressure in combination with Dora is producing “very strong and damaging winds,” the National Weather Service said.
Winds as high as 60 mph are expected through the overnight in Hawaii, then will begin to diminish through the day on Wednesday.
“These strong winds coupled with low humidity levels are producing dangerous fire weather conditions that will last through Wednesday afternoon,” the weather service said.
By Wednesday afternoon, the area of high pressure, as well as Dora, will both drift westward, allowing the winds to subside.
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.
CNN’s Aya Elamroussi, Jennifer Gray, and Kelly McCleary contributed to this report.
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