Smoke from the fire closes Kuihelani highway in central Maui
© Matthew Thayer/AP
Smoke from the fire closes Kuihelani highway in central Maui.

Brush fire of 1,200 hectares burns out of control through island's central valley

Thousands of people on Maui have been ordered to evacuate two towns in the path of a spreading wildfire, Hawaiian officials and media said.

The 1,200 hectare (3,000 acre) brush fire in the island's central valley was uncontrolled on Thursday night, Maui's mayor, Mike Victorino, told a news conference. Firefighters were monitoring it overnight but it was too dangerous to battle in the dark, he added.

"We can't fight the fire tonight," he said. "We're not going to send any firefighters into harm's way."

A National Weather Service satellite photo showing smoke hanging over the island was posted online.

The brush fire was reported at about 10.30am and steady winds of up to 20mph fanned the flames, officials said. It jumped a highway and spread across fallow fields and more brush. Two fire department helicopters dropped water on the blaze to try to contain it.

While thousands were ordered to evacuate, it was unclear how many people had left the west Maui coastal towns of Maalaea and Kihei. Three shelters housed about 500 people late on Thursday, media reports said. Maui high school was accommodating about 200 cats and dogs moved from a local animal shelter, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Kahului airport was briefly closed and flights were diverted because of the smoke, which also forced the closure of two major roads. Operations were back to normal around 7pm, media reported.

No injuries or damage to structures were reported, but some farm equipment had burned, HawaiiNewsNow reported.

Source: Reuters