By Ashley R. Williams, Henrik Pettersson, Renée Rigdon, Clint Alwahab, Marco Chacón and Amy O’Kruk, CNN
August 18, 2023
About 2,000 miles from mainland United States, Maui faced the threat of destructive wildfires on August 8 that would soon erupt into an inferno. More than 100 lives would be lost. Much of the touristic and economic hub of Lahaina, on the island’s western edge, would be reduced to ashes.
A perfect storm of conditions led to the deadly blazes. The drought blanketing swaths of the archipelago played a major role. Hurricane Dora, meanwhile, churned in the Pacific several hundred miles south. The islands were not under hurricane warnings. Still, the storm's resulting low pressure, paired with a high pressure to the north, created strong winds that would fuel the destruction.
Quickly spreading wildfires ignited into what Gov. Josh Green described as likely the “largest natural disaster in Hawaii's state history.” Several fires hit Maui hard, leaving over 2,200 buildings damaged in Lahaina alone. Here’s a look at what happened – and what lies in ruins.
As the Upcountry fire is raging — shown on the map as hot spots on satellite data — a smaller brush fire fueled by strong winds from Hurricane Dora prompts evacuations near a Lahaina school. Fire officials declare it 100% contained just before 9 a.m. The early Lahaina fire doesn’t yet register on satellite.
A Lahaina fire flareup prompts evacuations, a road closure and shelter-in-place advisory on western Maui.
Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, Hawaii’s acting governor, issues an emergency proclamation to activate assistance from the state’s National Guard.
People watch as smoke and flames fill the air on Front Street in downtown Lahaina on August 8. Alan Dickar via AP
Evacuations continue for several Lahaina neighborhoods after an earlier flare-up closes the Lahaina Bypass.
A video shot by resident Jeff Melichar as he evacuated his home on Tuesday, August 8. The video shows the area around the Salvation Army on Shaw Street. Courtesy Jeff Melichar/TMX
Air Force veteran Bosco JR Bae, who is new to Hawaii, tried to save his Lahaina apartment building Tuesday from the raging flames. He grabbed a water hose to stop the spread.
“Everything was on fire. At one point I had to stay on the ground to wait for the thick smoke to clear.”
The blowing embers in the wind looked like it was raining fire, said Bae, who fought the fire with a friend for a couple of hours before it became too much to handle. They evacuated around 8 p.m. local time.
Officials drive through areas impacted by wildfires on Tuesday, August 8. Courtesy County of Maui
Video of Lahaina resident Jonah Grace Tomboc, 21, sheltering on the rocks by the sea during the afternoon of Tuesday, August 8, 2023 as fires ravaged Lahaina in Maui, Hawaii. Courtesy Jonah Grace Tomboc
The Coast Guard begins rescuing people entering the Pacific Ocean to flee the fiery, smoky conditions. They help at least 14 people, including two children.
Flames and smoke are seen on the shore of Lahaina from a United States Coast Guard boat on August 9. USCG
Breathing through a wet shirt didn’t stop heavy smoke from seeping into the lungs of Steven Potter as he ran from his car and for his life near Lahaina’s Front Street on Tuesday.
“I was coughing up black,” Potter told CNN.
“People fled toward the water,” he said. “We ended up waiting down on the rocks for eight hours until firefighters came to rescue us.”
Steven Potter was among those stuck near Front Street as fire surrounded him and trapped his vehicle.Courtesy Steven Potter
The Hawaii National Guard deploys on Maui as wildfires burn out of control, says Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, Hawaii's adjutant general.
Image: Waiola Church and nearby Lahaina Hongwanji Mission are engulfed in flames along Wainee Street in Lahaina on August 8. Matthew Thayer/The Maui News via AP
Christina Lovitt watched the boat she had put “every penny” into go up in flames over the water on Maui Tuesday evening.
“To see this beautiful thing I’ve spent my life on just disappear — it was just the most tragic thing,” the boat captain told CNN.
Some good came of her time on the water that night. Using a smaller boat, she and others aided the Coast Guard and rescued 5- and 6-year-old children among those who had jumped into the Pacific Ocean to escape the flames.
Emma Nelson recorded video from a boat offshore showing structures on land and boats in the water on fire as Lahaina burned Tuesday night.Courtesy Emma Nelson
Wednesday, August 9
The fires leave more than 14,000 customers without power on Maui as winds associated with Dora continue to fan the flames.
Flames light the night sky near Lahaina on August 9. Dustin Johnson via Reuters
Drone footage shows the fires moving towards Kahulu.
Courtesy Clint Hansen of Maui Real Estate Radio
The fires strip one of the largest banyan trees in the US, imported to Maui in 1873 from India, of much of its vegetation, satellite images show. The more than 60-foot-tall tree stretches an entire city block, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
The historic banyan tree on Lahaina’s Front Street is seen in February 2018, left, and August 11, 2023. Jennifer McDermott/Rick Bowmer/AP
Over 2,100 people seek refuge overnightin four Maui shelters, Maui County officials say.
Residents and tourists seek shelter at Maui High School in Kahului, on August 9. Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/ZUMA Press Wire
Timm Williams Sr.’s family prayed they’d hear from him soon. The disabled veteran, 66, had last sent a photo of the raging flames from Maui on August 9 as he tried evacuating Kaanapali, where several roads were blocked.
“It has been difficult,”granddaughter Brittany Talley said. “Every minute that goes by is another minute that he could be hurt (or) in danger.”
Courtesy Brittany Talley
Military helicopters douse Maui County with about 150,000 gallons of water to fight the fires, Hawaii Department of Defense Adjutant General Kenneth S. Hara says Wednesday night.
A Hawaii Army National Guard helicopter drops water on flames in Maui on August 9. Hawaii National Guard via Reuters
It’s unclear how many people are unaccounted for across Maui, as lack of radio and cell signals continue to pose challenges, says island police chief John Pelletier.
The California Office of Emergency Services announces plans to send a search and rescue team to Maui to help search for survivors and aid with recovery efforts in the hardest-hit areas.
Image: Destroyed homes and buildings along Front Street, including the Wo Hing Temple Museum, are seen in Lahaina on August 9. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
Officials report the fire in Lahaina is 80% contained. The town remains without power.
Smoke rises from Lahaina on August 10. Rick Bowmer/AP
Tourism officials say more than 14,000 people were moved off Maui Wednesday, with an additional 14,500 people expected to be moved elsewhere in Hawaii or sent back home by Thursday’s end.
People sleep at Kahului Airport in the early morning of August 10. Mengshin Lin for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Structures that were damaged or destroyed, as visible on satellite imagery.
The Lahaina fire left the historic Maui whaling village appearing as though a bomb had gone off. Iconic buildings were left flattened or scorched by the roaring flames, CNN's chief climate correspondent Bill Weir reported from the damaged Lahaina town Thursday.
“(There was) just lifeless, smoky, and sooty devastation where Lahaina town used to be,”Weir said.
Keep scrolling for a closer view of the damage the fires caused in Lahaina.
Hundreds of lives have been lost, but officials warn the death toll could rise as people search for bodies through the ashes and rubble. Over 1,000 people may still be unaccounted for, officials say, but the exact number is unknown.
The full cost of rebuilding from the destruction is not yet known, but officials believe it will take years for Maui to recover. Emergency management experts estimate it will cost billions to restore Lahaina alone.