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Massive out-of-control brush fire in West Maui causes evacuations, rescue of hikers

By Pamela Young and Web Staff - The state's DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife is helping Maui firefighters with personnel, equipment and aerial reconnaissance as the battle continues to try to contain and extinguish a massive brush fire that started Saturday afternoon.

An evening flareup from the West Maui fire that has burned at least 6,000 acres once again closed Honoapiilani Highway Saturday evening, according to the Maui Fire Dept.

The fire has not been contained, as the active fire is burning in areas inaccessible to vehicles.

No structures have been damaged and no injuries are reported, but about a dozen homes on Maalaea Bay Place were threatened.

Evacuations have been ordered for businesses and residents in the area as fire crews fight to contain the blaze in Maalaea, which firefighters believe started from a flareup from an early morning fire. That fire is thought to have started from an electric power line that was laying on the ground in the burned area.

The Hawaii Red Cross, along with Maui Civil Defense, opened up two shelters at the Maui War Memorial and the Lahaina Civic Center at 6 p.m. Saturday. While both shelters were closed at 7 a.m. Sunday, they are standing by if they need to reopen later in the day.

Of those that stayed in the shelters overnight, a great majority of them were tourists. There were a total of 472 people in the Maui War Memorial shelter and 150 in the Lahaina Civic Center shelter.

The flareup was first reported at 12:33 p.m. near where crews were called to early Saturday morning in the area mauka of the Kuihelani Highway and Honoapiilani Highway intersections.

Wailuku firefighters arrived at 12:43 p.m. and found a 40-by-40 foot fire near where a fire occurred at 1:24 a.m. and was considered extinguished at 3:35 a.m.

But firefighters say they had trouble accessing a locked gate following the flareup, and by the time they got there, trade winds of at least 40 mph got hold of it and it just took off.

The fire then raced downwind and upslope toward the West Maui mountains within minutes.

A group of hikers called in to emergency dispatchers as the fire progressed upward saying they were on the Lahaina Pali Trail just above the fire.

Two helicopters searched for and eventually rescued six hikers from the mountain at around 2 p.m. No one was injured.

Firefighters say other hikers were on the Lahaina side of the trail and made it down that side of the mountain on their own.

The brush fire is estimated to have burned around 6,000 acres so far from the highway intersections, towards the south and up over the mountains towards Papalaua Wayside Park.

Fire crews from Lahaina were standing-by Saturday evening at a subdivision in Ukumehame on the other side of the mountain. They are monitoring the fire that's still burning near the top of the mountain and waiting for its decent on the Lahaina side.

A portion of Honoapiilani Highway between North Kihei Road and McGregor Point was closed again due to a flare up at mile-post 11 reported a little after 8:30 p.m. No word on how long it will remain closed.

The road was completely closed throughout most of the day in both directions between Kuihelani Hwy. and mile-post 14 in Lahaina due to the blaze.

Kayla Delos Santos, who was traveling with family members from Lahaina to Kahului, said "it was in a grassy area on the left, a dry area, and it was a long, straight line of fire. I can say it was about two to three miles."

The mauka side of the highway is mostly grassland. Witnesses say horses that normally graze in the field were moved to safety.

The fire caused a power outage in West and South Maui, but Maui Electric reported that power was restored to all customers as of 4:55 p.m.

In anticipation of some travelers from Lahaina and Kaanapali having to take the northern route to the airport, Hawaiian Airlines says those passengers will be accommodated on other flights.

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