Wed, Aug 9, 2023 7:16 AM
By Kim Jarrett, The Center Square
(The Center Square) -The death toll from the fires in Maui County is now 36, state officials said.
Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. said at a news conference Wednesday the west side of the island is cut off from the rest. Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, who is acting governor while Josh Green is out of town, held the news conference.
Green said Wednesday he is returning to Hawaii as fires rage on Maui, affecting that county and Hawaii County.
“We have suffered a terrible disaster in the form of a wildfire that has spread widely as a result of hurricane-force winds in the region and underlying drought conditions," Green said in a statement. "Maui and the Big Island both experienced significant fires. Much of Lāhainā on Maui has been destroyed and hundreds of local families have been displaced."
Luke issued a second disaster declaration to include all of the state's counties on Wednesday. She said in her proclamation that dry conditions and winds contribute to the fires.
“This is an unprecedented disaster as an indirect result of Hurricane Dora passing just south of our islands,” Luke said. “It is truly devastating and my heart goes out to the residents of Maui and all those impacted.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency's Hawaii office said Wednesday that federal funds are authorized to help with up to 75% of the costs of fighting the fire.
"At the time of the request, the fire threatened an unknown number of homes in and around Lahaina, with mandatory evacuations for approximately 7,500 people," the agency said in a news release. "The fire also threatened local businesses, electrical transmission lines and telecommunications lines in the area."
The Kahului Airport, which serves Maui County, remained open around 7:15 Wednesday morning. Hawaii Department of Transportation encouraged travelers to use the back roads when going to the airport, according to a post on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter. About 1,800 people spent the night at the airport, the agency said.
Luke called in the National Guard on Tuesday to assist with evacuations. The fires have spread since then and may be affecting other counties, resulting in a need for a second proclamation.