Maui County officials evacuated nearly 100 people yesterday as strong winds drove a mauka brush fire close to homes and businesses near the Maalaea shoreline.
Dozens of other people were delayed from returning home or traveling to west Maui hotels after Maui police closed Honoapiilani Highway from the Kihei junction to Ukumehame at noon. It was reopened after 6 p.m.
The evacuees included residents of eight small homes near the harbor, employees of Kaheawa Wind Farm and shoreline campers, according to Maui County spokeswoman Mahina Martin. No structures were damaged, she said.
Two Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopter crews and five other choppers dumped water on the fire, joining 77 firefighters and 19 state forestry workers who had difficulty reaching the fire in inaccessible terrain. More than 2,000 acres of brush had burned by last night in the fire first reported Monday night.
One firefighter was taken to Maui Memorial Medical Center needing treatment for smoke inhalation. He was listed in stable condition, Martin said.
"I’ve been through several fires here," said Matt Rauch, resident manager of the Maalaea Yacht Marina condominium. "This one was the most quick-developing, most out-of-control fire I’ve witnessed. It was anybody’s guess what it would do. It moved close when the winds picked up about 1 p.m.
"It came close to Buzz’s Wharf restaurant and a dry dock at the harbor. The helicopters did a good job of keeping it at bay," said Rauch, who watched firefighting efforts from the rooftop of the apartment building. He said a fire in that area a year ago damaged rooftops of the small homes when it jumped the highway.
He said the 600 residents in 10 condominium apartment buildings were not evacuated "but those folks who are sensitive to smoke probably wished they had left."
Rauch said several boats left the harbor. "It seemed like the boats went out full. There were a lot of tourists cut off and they may have ferried them to Lahaina."
"The winds were really howling earlier," said Marsha Smith, owner of Maalaea Realty and Rentals. "I had a call from my guests who are stuck on the highway and can’t get through." Smith said several businesses closed, including the Maui Ocean Center and restaurants at the harbor.
Jerry Roberts, manager of the Maalaea Mermaid apartments, said residents of the building "probably went off to work this morning and can’t get back home. Every summer we have at least one fire and we haven’t had a lot of rain for a while so it’s no surprise."
The American Red Cross opened shelters at the Lahaina Civic Center and the War Memorial Gym in Wailuku.