Officials say a wildfire in historic Lahaina, Hawaii, has killed at least 36 people

A wildfire in ancient Lahaina, Hawaii, has killed at least 36 people, according to officials.

A wildfire in the ancient Hawaiian town of Lahaina has killed at least 36 people, Maui County officials confirmed late Wednesday night local time.

One of the numerous fires that completely consumed communities in Hawaii, the Lahaina fire was started by Hurricane Dora's winds on Tuesday when it passed well to the south.

The Maui wildfires caught the island off guard, leaving burned-out cars on once-busy streets and burning piles of wreckage where historic buildings once stood.

People were compelled to dive into the water for protection due to the flames. The Coast Guard reported that it rescued 14 people from Lahaina's harbor, two of them children and that all were in stable condition.

Officials had stated that 271 structures had been damaged or destroyed, and dozens of people had been hurt.

On Wednesday, personnel were still battling fires in multiple locations on Maui Island. Visitors were advised to avoid the area by authorities.

The fires were the latest in a string of difficulties triggered by harsh weather this summer around the world. According to experts, climate change is increasing the risk of such disasters.

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Pilots were able to witness the full extent of the destruction on Wednesday when numerous flights took off as the winds on Maui abated. Aerial imagery from Lahaina revealed hundreds of wrecked homes and businesses, including ones on Front Street, where tourists used to gather to shop and dine. Smoking rubble mounds were piled high along the waterfront, boats in the harbor were burnt, and grey smoke lingered over the leafless carcasses of charred trees.

"It's frightening. "I've been flying here for 52 years and I've never seen anything like it," said Richard Olsten, a tour business helicopter pilot. "Tears were in our eyes, both of us."

Kekoa Lansford, an emotional Lahaina resident, Honolulu station KGMB-TV that Front Street is "completely burned."

In a statement issued Wednesday, State Department of Education Superintendent Keith Hayashi stated that a team is working on contingency plans and preparing for the possible closure of an elementary school that has existed in Lahaina for over a century.

The King Kamehameha III Elementary facility, which is on Front Street in Lahaina, reportedly suffered major fire and structural damage, according to unofficial aerial pictures. "The Department is attempting to maintain regular school schedules in order to provide a sense of normalcy," he said, adding, "Most Maui schools will remain closed for the remainder of this week."

The mayor of Maui County, Richard Bissen Jr., stated during a news conference Wednesday morning that investigators had not yet begun investigating the direct cause of the fires, but they did point to a mix of dry conditions, low humidity, and high winds.

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More than 2,100 people spent the night in evacuation centers on Tuesday. Officials in Honolulu were preparing the Hawaii Convention Centre to house thousands of displaced tourists and locals.

President Biden stated that he had directed all available federal assets to assist with the response. He said that the Maui search and rescue activities and fire suppression were supported by Chinook helicopters from the Hawaii National Guard.

All tourists to Maui, according to Alan Dickar, who owns a poster gallery and three buildings in Lahaina, go to Front Street.

"The central two blocks are the economic heart of this island, and I don't know what's left," he explained.

Dickar captured video of the main strip engulfed in flames before fleeing with three buddies and two animals.

"Everything significant I owned burned down today," he explained. "I'll be OK. "I made it out safely."

"Maui can't handle this," Dickar told CBS News' Patrick Trophy. Many people have lost their employment as a result of business fires. Many people were displaced from their homes. This will be disastrous for Maui."  

Gov. Josh Green was traveling at the time, so Luke made an emergency proclamation on his behalf. Green's office said he'd cut his vacation short and would return Wednesday evening.

At a news conference Wednesday night, Hawaii Department of Transportation Director Edwin Sniffen stated that 11,400 passengers had left Maui earlier in the day, with another 600 remaining overnight at the newly reopened airport. On Thursday, about 1500 tourists were due to leave the island.

The fires in Hawaii are not like those in the Western United States. They typically start in extensive grasslands on the drier portions of the islands and are much less in size than mainland fires. In 2021, a big fire on the Big Island destroyed homes and drove people to flee.

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