Maui and Hawaii’s big island wildfires prompt evacuations

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People wait on the side of the road to return to west Maui after wildfires driven by high winds were believed to have destroyed a large part of the historic town of Lahaina, in Kahului, Hawaii, on August 9, 2023. Marco Garcia/Reuters

Devastating wildfires in the Hawaiian Islands – coupled with vast communication gaps created by the interruption of services – have left many travelers in limbo as they struggle to leave the especially hard-hit island of Maui or reschedule imminent travel plans.

State officials were working with hotels and a local airline to try to evacuate tourists in Maui to another island, Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke told CNN on Wednesday morning. But severed communications have hobbled efforts to reach everyone.

Maui’s Kahului Airport (OGG) is open, the Hawaii Department of Transportation posted on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. The HDOT urged patience at the airport. and also provided details on reaching the airport via a bypass.

Nonessential inbound travel to Maui is strongly discouraged, Ed Sniffen, director of the Hawaii State Department of Transportation, said Wednesday at a news conference.

Travel adviser Jim Bendt said Pique Travel Design is advising clients traveling to Maui in the next week to reschedule their trips to “help ease the burden on local infrastructure.”

Pique Travel will be working with its partners on the island to waive or minimize cancellation and change fees, he said.

Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines all are offering travel waivers for travel to Maui allowing passengers to change plans without penalty.

“Guests with non-urgent travel inquiries are encouraged to call back later so that we can assist those with immediate needs,” Hawaiian Airlines posted on social platform X, formerly known as Twitter. The airline urged travelers to check their flight status before going to the airport.

Bendt said travelers with plans to visit islands other than Maui won’t need to change their plans.

“Hotels and tours are operating as normal,” he said.

As for what’s next for travel to Maui, it’s a wait-and-see situation.

“Natural disasters are, by nature, quick-moving. If you have a trip to Maui a few weeks from now, your best bet, for now, is to wait and see if the fires get contained,” said Scott Keyes, founder of travel site

Keyes said that “there’s no added benefit to canceling a trip a few weeks in advance versus a few days in advance.”

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