A wildfire is seen on the island of Maui, Hawaii, US in this video grab taken from social media on Friday. Reuters
Hawaii's governor on Friday declared an emergency on the island of Maui, where firefighters were battling a blaze that forced the evacuations of thousands of people and sent huge clouds of smoke billowing over nearby beaches.
Although most of the evacuees were later allowed to return home, the blaze more than tripled in size to spread over about 9,000 acres (3,642 hectares), scorching mostly former sugarcane fields and brush.
"I am declaring our Valley Isle a disaster area for the purpose of implementing the emergency management functions as allowed by law," Governor David Ige said in a statement.
The fire in Maui, sometimes called the Valley Isle, had been 60 percent contained by sunset but officials warned that even though the shelters were shut, they might need to reopen if more evacuations were ordered.
“I am declaring our Valley Isle a disaster area for the purpose of implementing the emergency management functions as allowed by law.
Authorities had also managed to contain about 35 percent of a second, smaller fire across roughly 200 acres (81 hectares), that had broken out north of the first near Kahului, forcing some voluntary evacuations.
The major blaze began in the island's central valley on Thursday, with its flames stoked by steady winds of up to 20 miles per hour (30 kph), officials said.
Thousands of residents and visitors in the communities of Maalaea and Kihei fled as a precaution, while firefighters struggling to quell the blaze drafted in helicopters to drop water on the flames.
There were no reports of injuries or damage to buildings, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser said. The cause of the fire is being investigated.
On Twitter, the governor thanked media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who owns a property on Maui, after she opened a private road on Thursday to assist officials tackling the fire.
No homes were at risk, but the flames came within miles of a critical highway on Friday. The area where the fire is burning is dominated by shrubs and grasslands that are parched from persistent drought in the region.
Joe Biden branded President Donald Trump a “climate arsonist” on Monday for refusing to acknowledge global warming’s role in deadly wildfires sweeping the western United States, while Trump blamed lax forestry and declared, “I don’t think science knows.”
Dense smog from US wildfires that have burnt nearly five million acres and killed 27 people smothered the West Coast Saturday, as presidential challenger Joe Biden warned climate change is becoming an existential issue.
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