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At least 36 dead in Hawaii fires, which have displaced thousands, reduced a historic town to ash, and chased some into the ocean

  Wildfires have transformed parts of Maui, Hawaii, into infernos, killing at least 36 and reducing much of one centuries-old coastal town t...

 Wildfires have transformed parts of Maui, Hawaii, into infernos, killing at least 36 and reducing much of one centuries-old coastal town to ash and cinders.

According to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Dora passed far south of the islands; however, the strong pressure gradient between the storm and high pressure to the north generated powerful wind gusts of up to 60 mph and dry weather conditions, which helped set the stage for the blazes that have since spread across several islands and all but encircled Maui.

The Haiwaii Tourism Authority indicated Wednesday evening that fires were still affecting Lahaina, Kihei, and Upcountry Maui — all on Maui — as well as Hawaii Island, particularly the Mauna Kea Resort area.

The islands of Kauai, Lanai, and Oahu remain unaffected.

Maui County reported that 36 total fatalities had been discovered as of late Wednesday. Officials have indicated the death toll could rise. 

Lahaina, among the municipalities hit hardest, was left in ruins by the fires.

In the town's historic district, homes and businesses were razed to the ground. In other areas, the blanched skeletons of buildings appear to be all that remain standing.

Air Maui helicopter pilot Richie Olsten described the scene at Lahaina thusly: "It looked like a war zone, like an area that had just been bombed. … And, it's just, I can't even put it in words, what, what we saw. So many people, hundreds of homes burned to the ground. People displaced, the whole Front Street of Lahaina. … The businesses, the historic area, burned to the ground. Gone. 

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) noted on Twitter, "Lahaina Town on Maui is almost totally burnt to the ground. Firefighters are still trying to get the fires under control, and our first responders are in search and rescue mode."

One plane passenger caught some of the destruction on tape.

Additional footage of Lahaina's coastline shows the immolated remains of vehicles and ash-strewn streets.

Dozens of people rescued by the Coast Guard had leaped into the ocean to avoid the flames, reported the Weather Channel.

Capt. Aja L. Kirksey, Sector Commander of Coast Guard Sector Honolulu said in a statement, "On behalf of the US Coast Guard, I wish to convey my sincere condolences to the communities who have been tragically affected by the fires in Maui," reported Maui Now.

"Our collaboration with partner agencies and neighboring jurisdictions remains steadfast, as we unite our resources, knowledge, and equipment to ensure responder and public safety and amplify the impact of our response efforts," added Kirksey.

Gov. Josh Green's office indicated that over 2,000 acres of state and private land had been torched.

As of late Wednesday, around 100 Maui firefighters had been battling the flames around the clock, including 11 from state airport firefighting and rescue personnel, according to authorities.

Hawaii Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke emphasized, "This is not a safe place to be. ... On certain parts of Maui we have shelters that are overrun. We have resources that are being taxed. We are doing whatever we can and the state is providing whatever support that we can to give support to both Maui and to the Big Island."

Various shelters for the citizens displaced by the blazes are operating at capacity. The Kahului Airport on Maui is reportedly sheltering people, including an estimated 2,000 stranded visitors.

The Associated Press reported that 11,000 visitors managed to fly out of Maui on Wednesday.

As of Thursday morning, Maui County had opened additional emergency evacuation shelters at King's Cathedral Maui and at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, both in Kahului.

The HTA further noted that thousands of residents and visitors have been evacuated and multiple roads have been closed.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. said in a video statement, "We are grieving with each other during this inconsolable time. ... In the days ahead, we will be stronger as a ‘kaiaulu,’ or community, as we rebuild with resilience and aloha."

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