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Evacuated Maui Residents Return Home After Wildfire Scorches 10,000 Acres

Jul 12, 2019
Originally published on July 12, 2019 9:10 am

Updated at 7:35 a.m. ET Friday

Thousands of people who were evacuated from parts of central Maui on Thursday after a large fire broke out over parched land are returning to their homes following the blaze, which scorched 10,000 acres. The fire fed on large swaths of fallow, former sugar cane fields and dry brush, Hawaii officials told NPR.

Yet the fire is still burning on the island, according to Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino.

"This fire is still an active threat to our community and residents are urged to remain vigilant of changing conditions," Victorino said.

Firefighting helicopters, which worked most of Thursday, will return to the site of the fire on Friday in hopes of fully quelling the burn.

Officials said thousands of residents were evacuated, with more than 600 heading to shelters, but all have been told conditions are safe enough now to return to their homes. Shelters will remain on standby in case the blaze flares up again on Friday.

County officials in Maui first responded to the brush fire around 10:42 a.m. local time Thursday near the Kuihelani Highway. Fire officials said winds blowing 20 mph and higher fanned flames across fallow fields. The blaze swept through parts of nearby Maui Veterans Highway, leaving it charred.

Officials did not say what may have caused the blaze. No deaths, injuries or structure damage was immediately reported.

"The fire came very close to some structures in South Maui, including the Maalaea Power Plant, but firefighters were able to prevent damages," Victorino said.

The Maui Humane Society was also evacuated. Officials and volunteers moved animals in crates and kennels to shelter.

The fire in Maui, the second-largest Hawaiian island in area, drew fire engines, tankers and battalion chiefs to the scene.

Oprah Winfrey, who owns a home in Maui, told a local resident on Twitter that she has given emergency responders access to one of her private homes. "Hoping for the safety of all," she tweeted.

"A big mahalo to @Oprah for giving @mauicounty access to your private road for use to assist in the #Mauifire," tweeted Hawaii Gov. David Ige.

According to Hawaii's Department of Transportation, flights had been diverted from Kahului Airport, which was operating briefly on a power generator as a result of the fire, but power has been restored and flights have resumed, transportation officials said.

Still, as the blaze continues, Hawaii tourism officials are advising visitors planning trips to or from the Kahului Airport to contact their airlines to check the status of the flights.

Maui Police Lt. Gregg Okamoto said at a news conference that as fire-related concerns have been growing, the island has been experiencing disruptions with people trying to call 911 to report emergencies.

"I encourage the public, if you need to call 911, keep calling in and you'll get through eventually," he said.

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