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South Maui fire about 70% contained; police search for arson suspect

  • Video courtesy Blue-Hawaiian Helicopters

    Gov. David Ige declared Maui County a disaster area in an emergency proclamation Friday. The South Maui brush fire that began Thursday burned 12,000 acres by Friday evening.

  • COURTESY COUNTY OF MAUI / CHRIS SUGIDONO

    An aerial view of the large brush fire on Maui as seen, Thursday, during a flyover with Maui Mayor Michael Victorino.

  • THE NEWS VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

    An out-of-control wildfire that began along a major Central Maui highway burns Thursday. Hawaii emergency officials ordered an evacuation on Maui due to the runaway brush fire.

  • COURTESY ROGER NORRIS

    A large brush fire on Central Maui prompted thousands of residents and visitors to evacuate to safety on Thursday.

  • COURTESY MAUI COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT

    Smoke rose from a brush fire reported at 10:42 a.m. Thursday south of the intersection of Kuihelani Highway and Waiko Road in Central Maui. The blaze was moving south, fanned by winds reported at 15 to 20 mph, with higher gusts. No structures were immediately threatened.

  • COURTESY GOOGLE MAPS

UPDATE: 11 p.m.

Crews have completed repairs on water main breaks on North Kihei Road. Customers in the Maalaea and north Kihei area are asked to conserve water for at least two hours to allow water tanks to fill.

10:30 p.m.

A shelter is open at Maui High School for up to 400 distressed passengers stranded by American Airlines flight cancelations.

As of 10:30 p.m., the Maui High shelter reported about 25 people.

Maui High School is also sheltering animals evacuated from the humane society and their staff. They have received an all clear and expect to return the animals to the shelter Saturday morning.

“I want to give a very big mahalo to Maui High’s staff, the Red Cross, our County Parks staff and DOT staff as well as Roberts Hawaii for providing a shelter for these stranded passengers,” Mayor Michael Victorino said tonight. “Maui High School and volunteers have been extremely generous and accommodating. I also am very grateful to those assisting Maui Humane Society during this difficult time.”

Kamalii Elementary School is on standby if new evacuations are necessary.

County officials said at 9:40 p.m. that the South Maui fire was 70% contained, while the Puu­nene fire that broke out at about 1:30 p.m. in the area of Target, Lowe’s and Safeway off Hookele Street was 80% contained.

9 p.m.

The Maui Police Department is looking a vehicle that was seen today leaving the area of the Hookele Street fire in central Maui. MPD said it is looking for a possibly maroon-colored, Ford dually-type truck, early to mid-2000s model with truck racks.

Tips can be emailed to fire.damage@mpd.net, sent through the MPD Facebook page or by calling 808-244-6434 or 911.

6:45 p.m.

The South Maui fire that ignited Thursday and caused thousands of residents and tourists to evacuate was 60 percent contained as of sunset today, Maui fire officials said.

The fire has burned a little more than 9,000 acres but did not expand since this morning, they said.

Maui Fire Department officials said that firefighters were cutting firebreaks with bulldozers and dousing hot spots with water and that two of its helicopters conducted water drops until sunset. The MFD helicopters and firefighters will return at first light Saturday to continue battling the blaze.

Another MFD helicopter was diverted to a separate fire in Kahului which started about 1:30 p.m. Friday near the Lowe’s and Safeway stores by Hookele Street. That fire burned about 200 acres and was 35 percent contained as of 5:45 p.m., fire officials said in a news release this evening.

Fire Services Chief Rylan Yatsushiro said two abandoned structures in the brush were destroyed, but that there were no other reports of damage or injuries.

6:20 p.m.

A new brush fire today led to the evacuations of Target and Lowe’s stores as Maui firefighters got a handle on the larger brushfire that started Thursday.

“We thought we had pretty much one controlled and a new one broke out,” Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said this afternoon.

Maui County officials think the larger fire burned about 19 square miles of fallow sugar cane land.

Maui police evacuated the Target store, while the Lowe’s outlet voluntarily evacuated.

Maui Fire Services Chief Rylan Yatsushiro said the fire was moving fast amid brisk winds.

———

Associated Press contributed.

3:45 p.m.

The South Maui brush fire that began Thursday burned 12,000 acres, and it has not been declared contained as of this afternoon, county officials said.

A new fire in Kahului that was first reported at 1:30 p.m. today is moving quickly. The two fires are not related, the Maui Fire Department said at a afternoon news conference. They said MFD is moving assets from the South Maui fire to the new blaze.

Police were closing Maui Veterans Highway at 3:30 p.m. and police stressed it is a fluid situation.

Police evacuated the Target in the parking lot and store.

The Maalaea power plant was not damaged, but transmission lines were damaged by the fire. There could be brownouts later. Maui Electric Co. is asking the public to conserve energy and crews are making repairs.

Hawaiian Telcom reported 1600 feet of fiber optic cable and eight poles were damaged, affecting Internet use and cell phone service.

2:50 p.m.

Maui County officials said that Puunene School and Puunene Post Office have been evacuated, and that Feed My Sheep and Maui Economic Opportunity are also evacuating from the area. They said Paratransit and Human Service Transportation services may be interrupted.

2:10 p.m.

Gov. David Ige declared Maui County a disaster area in an emergency proclamation today that will enables the state to provide relief from damage caused by the ongoing brush fire.

His officer said today that the proclamation will also help “protect the health, safety and welfare of the people.”

“I am declaring our Valley Isle a disaster area for the purpose of implementing the emergency management functions as allowed by law. The emergency proclamation also authorizes the expenditure of state monies as appropriated to support speedy and efficient relief efforts,” Ige said in a statement.

11:30 a.m.

A Hawaii Army National Guard Chinook helicopter has been deployed to central Maui this morning to assist county firefighters battling the massive wildfire.

Maui County Mayor Mike Victorino said the fire could expand with shifting wind conditions, high humidity and hot weather.

“Right now, the fire department reported 20 percent containment so we’re not out of the woods in any way, shape or form,” Victorino said at a press conference this morning.

He urged the public to remain vigilant and to say near their homes or hotels. “Understand that this fire has dynamics that we haven’t seen in a long time. West Maui has experienced something like this but never central Maui.”

Victorino strongly advised people in south Maui and Upcountry, especially those with respiratory conditions, to stay indoors or wear air masks because of the poor air quality that could worsen.

More than 23 firefighters with three helicopters plus the Chinook helicopter are battling the wildfire today.

Victorino said, “The Chinook actually does almost a three to one job versus our little birds, however, with that being said it’s important we understand that this fire still poses such a danger that we’re going to do everything to prevent anything from occurring further, however, the fire department has told me they expect once the winds kick up, they don’t know when and how severe it will get.”

Officials said there are no reports of any injuries or damage to any structures at this time.

Meanwhile, repairs are underway to address some damaged fiber optic lines owned by Hawaiian Telcom.

Also, the Hawaii Department of Transportation is requesting passengers to contact their airlines prior to traveling to Kahului Airport.

Though airport operations are back to normal today, the situation may change, transportation officials said.

Passengers are experiencing delays at Kahului Airport today due to the influx of passengers from Thursday’s canceled flights.

Approximately 540 passengers are reportedly at the airport as airline companies scramble to bring in flights this morning to help transport passengers whose flights were canceled.

“If your airline has confirmed that your flight is departing from OGG today, please arrive three hours prior to your departure time to ensure you can clear security checkpoints,” officials said today.

The public should exercise caution and expect possible delays as crews may temporarily shut down roads.

8:30 a.m.

Maui County officials announced the shelter at the War Memorial Gymnasium is closed after the last stranded visitors were transported to Kahului Airport this morning.

“All emergency shelters are now closed but War Memorial and Kamalii Elementary School may reopen if conditions worsen,” officials said.

The Kihei Aquatic Center is also closed due to heavy debris from the brush fire. “Crews are working to clean the pool as soon as possible,” said county spokesman Brian Perry.

Friday, 7:30 a.m.

The War Memorial Gymnasium remained opened overnight for stranded visitors who missed their flights due to a raging wildfire that scorched approximately 10,000 acres of brush Thursday.

A total of 170 people sought shelter at the gymnasium at the time of the fire.

County officials had arranged for buses to transport people to Kahului Airport from the War Memorial Gymnasium early this morning.

A total of 216 people headed to Kihei Community Center and 253 people sought shelter at Kamalii Elementary School Thursday. The community center and elementary school closed last night but Kamalii remained on standby in the event of any flare-ups.

The massive wildland fire has yet to be deemed contained. Authorities said firefighters monitored the wildfire throughout the night.

The fire department’s Air 1 and Air 2 helicopters are expected to return to the site this morning to resume water drops.

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said, “This fire is still an active threat to our community, and residents are urged to remain vigilant of changing conditions.”

Meanwhile, North Kihei Road, Kuihelani Highway and Maui Veterans Highway reopened to motorists Thursday night.

10:20 p.m.

North Kihei Road is now open in both lanes, but drivers should expect heavy traffic. All evacuees may return home.

However, those seeking shelter in Wailuku should go to War Memorial Gymnasium and not the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said tonight. The center is only on standby in the event that War Memorial reaches capacity.

9:30 p.m.

Police are escorting cars intermittently through North Kihei Road as conditions allow. Maui Veterans Highway reopened in both lanes of traffic. Residents on Ohukai and to Uwapo Road are able to return to their homes.

Maui Electric officials said that their generating facilities have not been affected by the wildfire.

There are no scheduled or planned outages to customers at this time.

7:15 p.m.

Maui County officials have provided the following updates:

>> Maui Veterans Highway has reopened for traffic leaving Kihei only; North Kihei Road remains closed; Kuihelani Highway and Waiko Road have reopened.

>> Open shelters and the number of occupants are: The Kihei Community Center, with 156 people and six dogs; Kamalii Elementary School, with 253 people; and War Memorial Gymnasium, with 70 people.

>> The Velma McWayne Santos Community Center in Wailuku will open as an emergency shelter if the War Memorial reaches capacity.

>> Visitors are being told to stay at their hotels and off the roads.

>> Car rental companies are telling visitors they cannot drive to Kihei.

“The Maui County Department of Transportation has six motor coaches and five school buses on standby at Kahului Airport to transport visitors and affected residents to shelters. Some visitors already have been transported to War Memorial Gym,” county officials said.

The state Department of Transportation also said that Kahului Airport is running on commercial power and its operations are back to normal, although travelers are advised to contact their airlines for updated flight information. Earlier today, flights were being diverted from the airport, which was also running on generator power.

6:55 p.m.

County officials say there are three shelters opened for evacuees for the massive brush fire outside Kihei. The Red Cross has opened the War Memorial Gymnasium in Wailuku, and Kamalii Elementary School, and the county Department of Parks and Recreation has opened the Kihei Community Center.

Officials estimate about 1,000 acres have burned today.

6:35 p.m

The state Department of Transportation says that Kuihelani Highway and Maui Veterans Highway to Kahului are now open and the Kahului Airport is operating as normal.

“Those able to reach the airport safely are being served. Please call your airline before heading to the airport,” the DOT tweeted at about 6:10 p.m.

5:35 p.m.

The Hawaii Red Cross said its volunteers have now opened two shelters in response to the large brush fire in Kihei. A shelter at the War Memorial Complex, 700 Halia Nakoa St. in Wailuku has opened, in addition to the previously opened shelter at Kamalii Elementary School at 180 Alanui Kealii in Kihei.

4:30 p.m.

The state Department of Transportation said all flights are being diverted from Kahului Airport due to road access as well as power issues. The airport is currently operating on generator power due to issues related to the brush fire.

DOT spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige said incoming flights are being diverted to Honolulu Airport.

Transportation officials said that airport staff is supporting passengers already at the Maui airport and is planning for sheltering-in-place or making use of the county shelters.

3:48 p.m.

The Maui Electric Co. has restored electrical service to some South Maui customers.

“Currently the brush fire is not directly affecting any of our generating facilities. We continue to monitor the situation,” according to a tweet from Maui Electric Co.

3:30 p.m.

Maui County officials have ordered Kihei residents north of Ohukai Road to evacuate to a shelter at Kamalii Elementary School as firefighters continue to battle a large brush fire that started this morning near the intersection of Waiko Road and Kuihelani Highway.

Meanwhile, the Maui Electric Co. reports that parts of South Maui are experiencing an outage due to the brush fire. MECO crews are responding.

The brush fire is not currently affecting any Maui Electric facilities, but crews continue to monitor the situation and are taking precautionary measures by watering the perimeter of the Maalaea Generating Station. The Maui Fire Department is on scene at the generating station.

2:30 p.m.

Maui County officials said as of 2:20 p.m. Veterans Highway is also shut down from the Central Maui baseyard to its intersection with Piilani Highway and North Kihei Road as firefighters continue to battle a large brush fire.

Kuihelani Highway remains closed. North Kihei Road is closed, as well, to traffic traveling toward Kihei. Motorists may drive out, but not into Kihei, according to Maui police.

Maui County has activated its Emergency Operations Center to respond to a wildfire reported at 10:42 this morning,

Residents in the Sugar Beach area of South Maui have been advised to prepare to evacuate as a precaution.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE

Kuihelani Highway in Kahului remains closed in both directions, from Honoapiilani to Maui Lani Parkway, as firefighters battle a large brush fire.

The blaze was initially reported at 10:42 a.m. today south of the intersection of Kuihelani Highway and Waiko Road, according to the Maui Fire Department. The fire on the Maalaea side of Waiko Road then jumped Kuihelani Highway. Wind blowing at an estimated 15 to 20 mph, with higher gusts, was fanning the flames.

The fire is currently moving south across fallow fields, with no structures immediately threatened, Maui officials said.

The Maui Humane Society, however, decided to evacuate its shelter at 1350 Mehameha Loop early this afternoon.

”We’ve evacuated all the animals out to Maui High School, so we’re all clear here,” said spokeswoman Nancy Willis. “The community showed up in a big way, so we’re waiting to see what happens. All our animals and our staff are safe.”

Willis estimated the nonprofit evacuated about 200 animals, mostly cats.

After putting out a call for help on social media, Willis said the community responded by bringing crates and kennels to help transport the animals to Maui High School. The staff is waiting to find out when it can return to the shelter.

The Fire Department’s Air One and Air Two helicopters made water air drops. Three engines, three tankers and two battalion chiefs are on scene. The department also received assistance with bulldozers from West Maui Land Co., Goodfellow Bros. and the County Department of Public Works.

Motorists heading from West to Central Maui and Kahului Airport, meanwhile, need to detour to North Kihei Road and Maui Veterans Highway until Kuihelani Highway reopens.

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