OAKLAND, Calif. - Evacuations are underway in multiple areas of Hawaii, where wildfires are raging on Maui as Hurricane Dora on Wednesday is bringing high winds to fuel the flames.
One couple was in tears at the Oakland airport trying to get back to see if their home was still standing and their pets still were alive only to learn upon their arrival their house was destroyed and their pets dead.
"The whole town is gone," Kimo Kirkman said. "If the house burned down we have nothing. We have two cars, that’s it. And what we have right here."
"We live right off of Lahaina Luna, we have a house and our dogs are stuck in the house," added his wife, Steff Kirkman. "We don't know if our house is up. We don't know if our animals are alive or not, so we're heading back now," they said before they landed before learning otherwise.
The couple was on vacation in the Bay Area but decided to hop on a flight to return home early. They were relieved that at least their children were safe. They said their daughter tried to rescue the dogs, but police wouldn't let her into the town because the fire was spreading so quickly.
"We told her to turn around and get out of there or go by the ocean, so you can jump in, in case your car catches on fire," said Kimo Kirkman.
As of early Wednesday morning, there were three flights to Kahului from Oakland. Hawaiian Airlines tweeted that the fires were not impacting the Kahului Airport as of 7 a.m. but that could change.
The couple told KTVU they cannot get into Lahaina until the winds calm down, which won't likely be until Thursday. They have created a GoFundMe for assistance.
Several other passengers at the Oakland airport hadn't even heard about the fires and many weren't worried.
Late Tuesday, fire crews on Maui were battling multiple blazes concentrated in two areas: the popular tourist destination of West Maui and an inland, mountainous region.
Because of the wind gusts, helicopters weren’t able to dump water on the fires from the sky — or gauge more precise fire sizes — and firefighters were encountering roads blocked by downed trees and power lines as they worked the inland fires, authorities said.
Fires in Hawaii are unlike many of those burning in the Western U.S., fires tend to break out in large grasslands on the dry sides of the islands and are generally much smaller than mainland fires.
Fires were rare in Hawaii and on other tropical islands before humans arrived, and native ecosystems evolved without them.
This means great environmental damage can occur when fires erupt. For example, fires remove vegetation. When a fire is followed by heavy rainfall, the rain can carry loose soil into the ocean, where it can smother coral reefs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.