Deadly wildfires burning across Maui prompt evacuations

By Aditi Sangal, Eric Levenson, Elise Hammond, Tori B. Powell, Maureen Chowdhury, Amir Vera, Adrienne Vogt and Elizabeth Wolfe, CNN

Updated 10:37 a.m. ET, August 10, 2023
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7:01 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

The historic town of Lahaina is being ravaged by wildfires. Here's what to know about the community

From CNN’s Kara Nelson

Smoke billows as wildfires driven by high winds destroy a large part of the historic town of Lahaina, in Kahului, on Wednesday.
Smoke billows as wildfires driven by high winds destroy a large part of the historic town of Lahaina, in Kahului, on Wednesday. From Dustin Johnson/Reuters

Lahaina Town is a historic whaling village and tourism hotspot in Maui, Hawaii. Now, it is being ravaged by a devastating wildfire that has incinerated multiple structures, according to officials.

It is the largest community in West Maui and is located approximately 25 miles from the Kahului Airport. 

Front Street, which one resident told CNN was almost completely destroyed by the fire, is ranked as one of the “Top Ten Greatest Streets” by the American Planning Association.

Here's what else to know about the community.


  • Kamehameha III made Lahaina the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom from 1802 to 1845 before it was moved to Honolulu for its harbor.
  • Lahaina is home to the oldest Pacific lighthouse, which was unveiled in 1840. It sits at the edge of the Lahaina Harbor and has been guiding vessels for nearly two centuries. It was initially 9 feet tall but was eventually expanded to 26 feet shipping traffic increased.
  • The town served as a major whaling and fishing port in the 1800s because of its convenient location on whale migration routes.


  • Lahaina is one of the most visited places in Maui making up 80% of Maui’s tourism.
  • Front Street is a hot spot in Lahaina, and it stretches approximately a mile long. The tourist hub is lined with many art galleries, stores, restaurants, and historic sites. 
  • Maui's about 2.9 million visitors spent about $5.69 billion in 2022, according to the state's Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.


  • As of 2023, Lahaina's population stood at approximately 9,118 people, estimated by the World Population Review.
  • The US Census Bureau estimated a population of 13,216 in 2020.
  • The town is approximately 9.3 square miles, according to the US Census Bureau.

Correction: An earlier version of this post gave the incorrect year for the unveiling of the Lahaina lighthouse. It was unveiled in 1840.

5:33 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

Here's how you can help Hawaii wildfire victims

From CNN's Impact Your World

Help is desperately needed in Hawaii as devastating, fast-moving wildfires burn out of control across the Big Island and Maui.

Strong winds associated with Hurricane Dora have fanned the flames, knocking out local communication and destroying homes and historic buildings, including the popular Maui tourist destination Lahaina town.

Maui hospitals are overwhelmed with patients suffering burns and smoke inhalation. Thousands have evacuated or been displaced. Search and rescue efforts are still ongoing, but local officials warn that the death toll could rise as more information becomes available.

Click here to support relief efforts. Impact Your World will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates with more ways to help.

5:25 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

Hot and dry winds "set the conditions for the wildfires," official says

Smoke blows across the slope of Haleakala volcano in Maui on Tuesday.
Smoke blows across the slope of Haleakala volcano in Maui on Tuesday. Matthew Thayer/The Maui News/AP

While officials have not officially begun investigating the cause of the fires in Maui, the area had been under fire risk, according to Maj. Gen. Kenneth S. Hara, the Adjutant General for the State of Hawaii, Department of Defense.

The National Weather Service had issued a red flag warning, which means warm temperatures, low humidity, strong winds and increased fire danger, according to the weather agency.

"That set the conditions for the wildfires," he said Wednesday during a news conference.

The warning is still in effect, he added.

5:01 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

Hawaii officials monitoring for potential riots, lieutenant governor says

As more resources flood into Hawaii to fight raging wildfires and assist affected communities, state officials are monitoring possible riots.

“As more things get deployed, there are concerns about potential riots. There are concerns about, you know, people not having aloha,” said Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, referring to the good spirit ideal of the island state. “This is really time for us to have aloha and patience as we work toward this disaster together.”

With news of more devastation coming out of Maui on Wednesday morning local time, Luke also thanked officials for taking care of the community.

“This is really a time for us to really pull together. That’s what Hawaii does best,” she said, asking for those who can donate or help to reach out to local officials.

5:32 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

"It looked like an area that had been bombed in the war," helicopter pilot describes scene in Maui

From CNN’s Sara Smart

Fire damage is seen in Maui on Wednesday morning.
Fire damage is seen in Maui on Wednesday morning. Air Maui Helicopter Tours

A pilot, that flew a helicopter over Maui Wednesday afternoon to see the destruction from the wildfires, compared the scene to an area that was bombed during war.

Richie Olsten, director of operations for Air Maui Helicopters, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that what he saw was heartbreaking.

“It looked like an area that had been bombed in the war,” Olsten explained.

He and others on the helicopter were moved to tears with the destruction they saw on the island, Olsten said.

There were hundreds of homes destroyed, complete areas burned to the ground, including a harbor and historic buildings that cannot be replaced.

“It was devastating,” Olsten said, “In my 52 years of flying on Maui, I’ve never seen anything like that.”

5:12 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

American and United airlines canceling Maui-bound flights

From CNN's Pete Muntean

American and United airlines are canceling flights to Maui’s Kahului Airport due to wildfires.

“Given the current situation, all flights to OGG are canceled for today,” American spokesperson Curtis Blessing told CNN. “We are still operating the majority of flights out of OGG today to ensure customers evacuating OGG are able to do so.”

United Airlines also said it is canceling all inbound flights to the airport. The airline said planes will fly empty to Maui and will fly passengers back to the mainland. 

"Our teams are monitoring the situation closely and adjusting our schedule so we can keep serving our customers under difficult conditions. We’re emphasizing safety as always and checking on the welfare of our employees on Maui," United told CNN.

FlightAware data shows 7% of all inbound flights to Kahului have been canceled Wednesday.  

Hawaiian Airlines said it is operating its full flight schedule in and out of Maui and has added flights between Honolulu and Kahului on Wednesday.

The airline said the additional flights are "to accommodate departures out of Maui, as well as support emergency response efforts."

"We are also offering reduced $19 fares out of Maui to facilitate urgent travel needs," the airline said in a statement.

"We are working closely with the state of Hawaiʻi to support the transportation of first responders and supplies and help with the overall emergency response as best as we can," the statement said.

Earlier, Hawaii state officials discouraged nonessential travel to the island. 

5:42 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

Fires across Maui are not yet contained, mayor says

Destroyed buildings smolder after wildfires fanned by the winds of a distant hurricane devastated Maui's city of Lahaina on Wednesday. 
Destroyed buildings smolder after wildfires fanned by the winds of a distant hurricane devastated Maui's city of Lahaina on Wednesday.  From Mason Jarvi/Reuters

As of this morning, most of the fires on Maui are not yet contained, Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. said.

He said that the Kula fire, "which is about 1,100 acres," has still not been contained, while the Lahaina fire continues to have flare-ups and is not yet under control.

Bissen also said that there is a fire in Kihei as well.

5:08 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

US military and National Guard sending helicopters and personnel to fight fires

The Hawaii military is providing two Blackhawk helicopters to help fight the wildfires that are burning in several parts of the Big Island and Maui.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth S. Hara, the Adjutant General of the Hawaii State Department of Defense, said these helicopters have water buckets that hold thousands of gallons of water to help suppress the fires

Additionally, another helicopter with a smaller water bucket is also being deployed and another is on standby if it is needed, Hara said.

The Hawaii National Guard dispatched two helicopters to Maui, according to Hara. One has already landed and is in coordination with the fire department, he said.

A special unit that is trained in search and rescue operations is also being sent to Maui, Hara said.

5:00 p.m. ET, August 9, 2023

Cell service remains "very limited" in western Maui, county official says

Western Maui 911 services remain "very limited" as wildfires impact cell service in the area, according to Mahina Martin, chief spokesperson for Maui County.

"The cell towers, unfortunately have been out," she told CNN's Jake Tapper Wednesday. "That's been very problematic."

Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke said officials have been utilizing satellites to communicate with providers on the west side of Maui to restore power to the area.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. said strong winds have downed 29 utility poles and that fiber optic cables have been affected.

Some context: It could take days or even weeks to get the networks back up and running. Although strong winds can sometimes threaten cell towers, most are strong enough to handle the worst that even a Category 5 hurricane can bring. Fire, however, complicates the issue.

“When the fires get too close to cell sites, they will obviously burn equipment, antennas, and feedlines,” said Glenn O’Donnell, vice president of research at market research firm Forrester. “In extreme cases, they will also weaken the towers, leading some to collapse. The smoke and flames can also attenuate signals because of the particulate density in the air.”

If a tower collapses, cell networks could take months to restore. But if carriers are able and prepared to do restorations with mobile backup units, it could bring limited service back within hours, O’Donnell said. Wireless carriers often bring in COWs (Cells On Wheels), COLTs (Cells On Light Trucks), and GOaTs (Generators on Trailers) in emergencies to provide backup service when cell towers go down.