HONOLULU – Authorities on Maui said parts of the island are not safe for tourists and are working with airlines to get visitors back to the U.S. mainland as wind-driven wildfires continue to rage across the country’s 50th state.
During a Wednesday news conference, officials said there are at least 4,000 tourists on Maui who are awaiting departure to other islands and have opened a shelter at the convention center until transportation can be established.
"This not a safe place to be on certain parts of Maui. We have shelters that are overrun. We have resources that are being taxed," said acting Governor Sylvia Luke.
Emergency management officials said they are working with airlines to try to get people out to other islands and back to the U.S. mainland.
Airlines such as United, Delta, Hawaiian, Southwest, American and Alaska Air are all being impacted by the smoke and fires on the Hawaiian Islands, according to data from FlightAware.
Dozens of flights into Kahului Airport, the main facility on Maui, were either canceled or delayed on Wednesday, and authorities urged all travelers to Hawaii to check with their airline for changes in itinerary.
"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. We’ve canceled today’s inbound flights to Kahului Airport, so our planes can fly empty to Maui and be used as passenger flights back to the mainland," a United Airlines spokesperson told FOX Weather.
Additionally, United and several other airlines have issued travel waivers for passengers traveling to, from or through Maui.
Hawaiian Airlines said it added six extra flights between Honolulu and Kahului to accommodate departures off Maui and support the emergency response efforts.
"This morning we successfully alerted guests booked on our U.S. mainland to Hawaiʻi flights about the critical situation, so they could reconsider travel at this time. The safety of our guests and employees, including teammates who live and work on Maui, is our priority," a Hawaiian Airlines spokesperson stated.
With officials discouraging non-essential travel to Maui, Hawaiian Airlines said its travelers should call 1-800-367-5320 to adjust reservations.
Officials said they do not have a timeline on when the brush fires will be fully contained and just beginning search and rescue efforts.
Some communities have been devastated by the wind-driven fires and local officials said the scale of the destruction is the largest event the islands have faced since Hurricane Iniki in 1992.
The FOX Forecast Center said the deadly combination of a ridge of high pressure and Hurricane Dora caused gusty winds and dry air to spread over the islands.
"Nobody was prepared for this…to the visitors who are watching this and looking for answers. We’re going to ask for your patience because this is a stressful time. None of us were prepared for this, said James Tokioka, the director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. "Local people have lost everything. They’ve lost their house, they’ve lost their animals, and it’s devastating."