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‘I was trapped’: Maui fire survivors speak out as emergency declared

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(WAILUKU, Hawaii) — Hawaii residents recounted fleeing from deadly, ferocious wildfires, which have prompted an emergency proclamation from the acting governor.

“We started smelling the smoke, and that’s when we knew we had trouble,” Maui resident Steve Scott ABC News’ Gio Benitez on Wednesday. “It came, and it came quick.”

The wildfires are spreading rapidly in very dry conditions combined with powerful trade winds being squeezed across Hawaii. The winds are being caused by a strong high pressure system to the north and a strong low pressure system — Hurricane Dora — well to the south.

Scott said they had winds “like we’ve never had before.” He said he tried to fight the fire with a hose before managing to flee.

“I was trapped,” he said. “We had to run to the harbor.”

Maui resident Malika Dudley described to ABC News Live on Wednesday her experience evacuating from the raging wildfires with her two children in the middle of the night.

“We were in the very first evacuation at 1 a.m. I started to smell smoke in my home, and I woke my husband up and he said, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it.’ At 1:30, I thought, ‘No, something’s on fire in our house."”

Eventually, they got a call from their neighbor and the fire was right above their property.

“We got a call from our neighbor who said, ‘Get out of your house.’ And we looked out the window and there was a red glow outside of our window,” she said. “The fire was right above our property.”

Currently in Haliimaile, which is on the slopes of Haleakalā, Dudley can still see the fire from the mountain growing and spreading.

Scott said the loss is “horrible,” especially along Front Street in downtown Lahaina, just as the tourist-driven area started to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t know if we can recover from this,” he said.

Travel discouraged amid emergency

The emergency proclamation was issued for Hawaii’s Maui and Hawaii counties on Tuesday by acting Gov. Sylvia Luke. On Wednesday, the emergency proclamation was extended to all counties and non-essential air travel to Maui is now being discouraged. All affected state agencies have also been ordered to assist with the evacuation.

The proclamation encourages visitors in West Maui to depart the island as soon as safe and practicable.

“We are closely following the wildfires caused by the strong winds of Hurricane Dora,” Luke said. “The safety of our residents is paramount, and this emergency proclamation will activate the Hawaii National Guard to support emergency responders in the impacted communities.”

In addition to Hawaii’s National Guard being activated to assist with the fires on Maui and the Big Island, the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division will be sending helicopters to help with fire suppression if the winds die down enough, according to Jeff Hickman, a spokesman for Hawaii’s Department of Defense.

The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for the leeward portions of all Hawaiian Islands.

As of Tuesday night, six fires have burned over 1,800 acres across Maui and the Big Island. Officials said the situation on Maui is very dynamic and fast-moving.

Evacuations were in place Tuesday near two fires burning near Maui — the Lahaina and Upcountry Maui fires, county officials said.

“Multiple structures have burned and multiple evacuations are in place, as firefighter crews continue battling brush and structure fires in Upcountry and Lahaina areas,” officials said in a statement. “In West Maui, fire crews from Napili, Lahaina, Kihei and Wailuku responded to the fast-moving fire, which was fueled by strong winds as Hurricane Dora passed well south of Hawaii.”

The U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies are also responding. The Coast Guard’s Hawaii Pacific patrol said they successfully rescued 12 people from the waters off Lahaina. The individuals are believed to have jumped into the water to escape the flames, according to the state’s EMA.

Travel headaches

There has been no formal closure of Kahului Airport, the main airport on Maui, but there have been disruptions from the smoke. Travelers should check with their airlines for their flight status, according to the EMA.

About 1,800 people sheltered at Kahului Airport overnight, according to the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

The Hawaii DOT has also urged visitors to leave Maui if possible and not travel to the island. The warnings have caused panic on flights headed to the island.

An Alaska Airlines flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Maui has been delayed for hours and twice allowed passengers off the plane after being told about the conditions on the island.

“I was going to West Maui but don’t know if I am anymore because I guess it’s on fire and they’re evacuating people to Honolulu,” Sam Herring, a passenger still on the plane, told ABC News. “I was going to stay with somebody I know on the west side but now I guess I’m going to sleep in the rental car.”

ABC News’ Luis Martinez, Will Carr, Timmy Truong and Marilyn Heck have contributed to this report.

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