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At least 93 people have died in a wildfire on the Hawaiian island of Maui as authorities struggle to contain the deadliest wildfire outbreak in the United States in more than a century.
In a statement Saturday, Maui County officials said firefighters contained a fire near south Kihei in the southwestern part of the island but continued to fight blazes in western Maui and inland.
The blaze, which began on Tuesday, engulfed the historic town of Lahaina as strong winds from Hurricane Dora swept hundreds of miles south of the popular tourist destination Hawaii.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said at a news conference Saturday that the death toll is likely to continue to rise.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Pacific Disaster Center estimated that the fire had caused about $5.5 billion in damage, destroying or damaging more than 2,200 structures in Lahaina on the west side of the island.
The two agencies said as many as 4,500 people may need shelter as the blaze, which mostly affected residential buildings, burned 2,170 acres.
U.S. President Joe Biden declared a major disaster earlier this week and ordered federal assistance to support local and state efforts in affected areas. As of Saturday, more than 200 FEMA personnel had been deployed to Hawaii.
Green said officials will review the policy to improve safety going forward. “The world has changed. Now a storm can be a hurricane fire or a fire hurricane,” Green said. “That’s what we’ve been through. That’s why we’re looking at these policies to figure out how best to protect our people.”
He added that the fires were “the greatest natural disaster we have ever experienced”. . . It would also be a natural disaster that would take a lot of time to recover from. “
The fire also knocked out cellphones and power, and is expected to hurt Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy as people who had planned to visit Hawaii reconsider their trips. The Maui Department of Tourism has advised non-essential travelers to leave Maui.
Fires in Hawaii were intensified by dry weather as authorities confirmed July as the hottest month on record globally. Rising temperatures have caused droughts and sparked wildfires in many countries.
According to US media reports, the Hawaii fire is the worst fire since the 1918 Clokai Mountain Fire in Minnesota and Wisconsin killed 453 people.
The northern hemisphere has experienced an exceptionally active wildfire season, with fires burning in Canada for nearly four months destroying some 13 million hectares of boreal forest. In the early summer of this year, smoke from wildfires in Canada drifted to New York and other cities in the United States, causing a sharp deterioration in air quality.