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Strong winds fan destructive West Maui fires

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  • Video: Christie Wilson

    Hundreds were evacuated and at least one person was injured because of a brush fire near Lahaina today.

  • Video: Courtesy Chris Speicher

    A brush fire in West Maui burned at least 300 acres, injured at least one resident and forced the evacuation of hundreds of others.


    A brush fire burns above Lahaina today.


    A screenshot from a video of the the brush fire in Lahaina.

LAHAINA, Maui >> A wind-whipped brush fire in the hills above Lahaina burned up to 2,000 acres and at least seven homes in Lahaina, injured one person and forced the evacuation of hundreds of others.

The fire was reported around 12:45 a.m. in Kauaula Valley, with flames spreading rapidly toward more heavily populated areas. Approximately 100 homes in the Puamana, Punakea Loop and Lahainaluna Road areas were evacuated.

A separate fire that started above Kaanapali at 7:30 a.m. consumed 800 acres and led to the evacuation of an equal number of homes in the Kaanapali Hillside subdivision.

Morning downpours from the approaching storm doused some of the flames and stalled the Lahaina fire’s advance on homes in Launiupoko. The fires were only 40 percent contained as of 5:30 p.m. today, but no homes were in immediate danger, according to Maui County Communications Director Rod Antone.

An unidentified woman who suffered burns on her arms and legs in the Lahaina fire was flown to Honolulu for treatment, he said.

A third fire, reported at 9:45 p.m. Thursday deep in a valley above Maalaea, burned itself out after charring 30 acres, Antone said.

The cause of the blazes has not been determined.

Public safety officials closed Honoapiilani Highway, the main traffic artery connecting West Maui to the rest of the island, for several hours as the larger Lahaina fire reached the road. The highway was reopened in both directions by 9:30 a.m.

Lucy Reardon, 23, said her family awoke at about 3 a.m. to a “bright, red glow” on the hillside above their home on the mauka section of Dickenson Street, off Lahainaluna Road. They began spraying their property with a garden hose but soon decided “to get the hell out.”

“The wind was pumping, the smoke was pumping, the ash was everywhere. It was kind of scary,” she said.

Jean and William Smythe live at the end of Dickenson Street, adjacent to vacant cane fields that have fueled numerous brush fires in the years since Pioneer Mill harvested its last sugar crop in 1999.

Because of those previous fires, Jean Smythe, 66, said she wasn’t too worried after waking to the smell of smoke. “We thought we were far enough away from the fire and we’ve stayed before,” she said.

But that changed as gusting winds fanned the flames, driving them closer to homes along Lahainaluna Road.

“We packed whatever we could and went to the Jodo Mission,” she said.

When they returned home later in the day, their entire back yard was burned and blackened, including a large mango tree, a storage unit containing expensive tools and other items, and her husband’s childhood home, built in the 1940s.

“It’s very, very sad,” Jean Smythe said.

Due to the fire, the American Red Cross shelter that had been set up at Lahaina Intermediate School in anticipation of the hurricane had to be relocated to the Lahaina Civic Center. At one point, about 300 storm and fire evacuees had checked in and an additional 200 waited outside for the all-clear signal from authorities.

Maui Electric Co. crews worked today to restore power to 4,100 customers in West Maui after damage to two of three transmission lines to the region and utility poles in Lahaina. On Molokai, 1,800 customers were without electricity.

Haleakala National Park remains closed through the weekend.

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