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In Hawaii, at least 36 people have died in the Lahaina fire on Maui


First, we report on the heat of Hawaii's wildfires, which swept through the island of Maui.


The lieutenant governor says at least 36 people are dead from the fast-moving fires on Maui. The town of Lahaina is mostly destroyed, and fires continue burning.

INSKEEP: Hawaii Public Radio's Bill Dorman comes to us from Honolulu. Hey there, Bill.


INSKEEP: Thank you. What do people there think about when they think of the town of Lahaina?

DORMAN: You know, Lahaina is a beautiful spot on the west side of Maui island. It's tucked between the West Maui Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, right on the water. It's a beautiful place for sunsets. And it's really - it's a place of tremendous Hawaiian history. In the early 1800s, it was the capital of the Hawaiian kingdom. A few years after that, it became one of the real centers of Hawaii's whaling industry, which, long before tourism, was a commercial motor here across Hawaii. These days, a popular tourist attraction, especially a street lining the dock at the edge of the harbor, Front Street. It's also got a lot of wood there - wooden buildings, wooden docks. And right now, that's history that's, in many cases, burned to the ground and charred.

INSKEEP: Well, we heard from Sylvia Luke, the lieutenant governor of Hawaii, about that. She toured the area by helicopter. Here's some of what she told us.

SYLVIA LUKE: Homes were destroyed, businesses were destroyed. It just looked like the whole town dissolved into ashes.

INSKEEP: Bill, as someone who's been to Lahaina, what goes through your mind when you see these images and videos?

DORMAN: Yeah, heartbreak is a word that's used a lot. But just seeing those pictures of the helicopter, it's really - it's devastating on those charred ruins. One of the problems also, just in getting precise information really from this area on the extent of that and what that means in human terms. Power and phone service have both been down in West Maui. They're still down - landlines and cellphone service. And while there are fears that casualty numbers will climb, you mentioned the latest numbers, now injuries also reported - people hospitalized for smoke inhalation and burns. Some of those folks have been evacuated to hospitals in Honolulu. And people across the state really are feeling the pain of the folks in Maui.

INSKEEP: We mentioned the death toll - 36 as of now. What are some of the other numbers that you have that give some shape to this disaster?

DORMAN: Yeah, it's really still developing. But one area that we're turning to now is the people who are leaving Maui. These are visitors. They're tourists. They're also residents there. The Hawaii Convention Center here in Honolulu has been turned into an emergency shelter of sorts. They say they're prepared to handle 2,000, potentially up to 4,000 people if needed. State transportation director in that news conference said about 11,000 visitors left Maui Wednesday, some going home, some going elsewhere in the state. Another 600 people are staying overnight at the main Maui airport for early morning flights. Officials expect maybe another 1,500 people or so to leave Maui today.

INSKEEP: Are people surprised that a wildfire like this would strike in Hawaii?

DORMAN: You know, Hawaii does have wildfires that are part of seasonal realities here. It gets hurricanes. But that that combination is unusual, not unprecedented. It happened on Maui and Oahu in 2018. But that combination is dangerous because - not just the high winds spreading the flames, but those storms dry out the atmosphere. So that gives the fires more fuel to burn.

INSKEEP: Bill Dorman with Hawaii Public Radio, thanks so much for the update.

DORMAN: Thanks, Steve. Aloha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Bill Dorman