Hawaii wildfires become deadliest in US history as governor warns fatalities will increase

13 August 2023, 15:40 | Updated: 13 August 2023, 23:14

At least 93 people have died in a devastating wildfire in Hawaii
At least 93 people have died in a devastating wildfire in Hawaii. Picture: Getty/Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

At least 93 people have been confirmed dead in the wildfires on the US islands of Hawaii.

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Search and rescue teams continue to look for survivors after the fires broke out in Hawaii and devastated part of the island of Maui.

The number of dead has surpassed the 61 people who died in a tsunami in 1960, which was previously Hawaii's deadliest natural disaster since becoming a US state in 1959.

The state's governor Josh Green has warned the death toll will continue to rise, labelling Saturday "an impossible day".

Mr Green said the death toll will "continue to rise" with the wildfires now the deadliest in US history.

"We want to brace people for that," he told a news conference on Saturday.

Governor Josh Green said the death toll was likely to rise
Governor Josh Green said the death toll was likely to rise. Picture: Alamy

Around 80 per cent of Lahaina, a popular tourist town on the island's west coast, is "gone", according to Mr Green.

More than 1,000 buildings are destroyed and it could take years to completely rebuild, as President Joe Biden declared a major disaster.

One of the fires, in Lahaina, is now 85% contained, but another in Upcountry Maui is only half under control.

It is unclear what caused the fire, and investigations are underway. Officials will also face questions over why an emergency warning siren seemingly failed to go off.

Survivors said the first they knew of the fire was seeing flames or hearing explosions.

Read more: Paradise lost: Shocking scale of devastation to Maui revealed as Hawaii wildfire death toll reaches 55 with hundreds missing

Lahaina has been devastated by wildfires
Lahaina has been devastated by wildfires. Picture: Getty
The coast has been ravaged by fire
The coast has been ravaged by fire. Picture: Getty

Shocking photos show the devastation of the wildfires, which were made worse by hurricane winds fanning the flames.

They turned a paradise into a hellscape within hours.

They show neighbourhoods completely levelled, lying in smouldering ruins, with ruins of houses burned up trees lining scorched streets.

Aerial pictures show the black, torched town - a former capital of Hawaii with buildings dating back as as far as the 1700s - contrasts with the vibrant blue of the Pacific Ocean.

Some 1,000 people were missing as rescuers race to find survivors.

The tourist resorted has been destroyed
The tourist resorted has been destroyed. Picture: Getty
Lahaina was razed by flames
Lahaina was razed by flames. Picture: Getty

Residents and visitors fled to evacuation shelters while some were cut off by the fires and had to jump into the ocean in the hope the Coast Guard could rescue them.

Others were led to safety through the burning town by firefighters.

About 15,000 tourists flew out of the island on Thursday.

Mr Green described it as a "heartbreaking day".

"What we've seen today has been catastrophic, but we tell you there's going to be a team effort to bring our state back," Mr Green told reporters.

Read More: Hawaiian paradise wiped out: At least 36 dead and thousands homeless after wildfires tear through island of Maui

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"I know the question on your mind is: when can I get back to my home?" Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said - telling people to wait until "we have recovered those that have perished".

"Please allow us to complete this process before we allow people back into their homes," Mr Bissen added.

Cars have been torched across Lahaina
Cars have been torched across Lahaina. Picture: Hawaii Wing Civil Air Patrol
Maui has been engulfed by wildfires
Maui has been engulfed by wildfires. Picture: Alamy
The wildfires broke out in Maui
The wildfires broke out in Maui. Picture: Google Maps

Kamuela Kawaakoa, who evacuated to a shelter on Tuesday with his partner and son, six, said: "We barely made it out in time. It was so hard to sit there and just watch my town burn to ashes and not be able to do anything.

"I was helpless."

Mr Biden tweeted: "Our prayers are with those whose homes, businesses, and communities are destroyed.

Waiola Church and nearby Lahaina Hongwanji Mission ignite in Lahaina
Waiola Church and nearby Lahaina Hongwanji Mission ignite in Lahaina. Picture: Alamy

"I have ordered all available federal assets on the Islands to help with response.

"And I urge all residents to continue to follow evacuation orders, listen to the instructions of first responders and officials, and stay alert."

Hawaii has set ablaze
Hawaii has set ablaze. Picture: Alamy

Other parts of the Hawaiian islands have suffered wildfires in recent days.