Hawaii emergency officials have ordered thousands of residents in parts of central Maui to evacuate as firefighters battle a blaze that has ripped through parched land, scorching some 3,000 acres.
Maui Mayor Mike Victorino said at a press conference that four helicopters were deployed to put out the fire before nightfall, but as it grew dark, the fire was still raging.
“Once it gets dark, and we haven’t been able to contain this fire, we’re in trouble. We’re in deep trouble,” Victorino said.
County officials in Maui said a brush fire was reported around 10:42 a.m. local time Thursday near the Kuihelani Highway. Fire officials said winds blowing 20 mph and higher fanned flames across fallow fields. The blaze swept through parts of nearby Maui Veterans Highway, leaving it charred, according to The Maui News.
Officials did not say what may have caused the blaze. No deaths, injuries or structure damage was immediately reported.
The evacuation in Maui, the second-largest Hawaiian island with a population around 144,000, has filled up local shelters, some of which are being run by the Red Cross.
Oprah Winfrey, who owns a home in Maui, told a local resident on Twitter that she has given emergency responders access to one of her private homes. “Hoping for the safety of all,” she tweeted.
According to Hawaii’s Department of Transportation, flights had been diverted from Kahului Airport, which was operating briefly on a power generator a result of the fire, but power has been restored and flights have resumed, transportation officials said.
Still, as the blaze continues, Hawaii tourism officials are advising visitors planning trips to or from the Kahului Airport to contact their airlines to check the status of the flights.
Maui Police Lt. Gregg Okamoto said at a news conference that as fire-related concerns have been growing, the island has been experiencing disruptions with people trying to call 911 to report emergencies.
“I encourage the public, if you need to call 911, keep calling in and you’ll get through eventually,” he said.