The once-idyllic islands of Maui and Hawaii have turned into heart-wrenching scenes of destruction, forcing tourists and locals to flee their hotels and homes.
As of 11am Thursday morning, officials warned that the death toll could continue to rise, with multiple fires on the island of Maui still burning and teams spreading out to search charred areas.
Collaborating closely with emergency management officials, the Hawaii Tourism Authority is actively monitoring the situation.
Exacerbated by dry conditions and unpredictable winds, the wildfires have consumed vast stretches of land, with the most harrowing conditions appearing to be in West Maui in the town of Lahaina, reports CNN.
Evacuations were ordered as a blaze engulfed the town, a popular tourist destination where about 12,000 people lived. As firefighting continues, 36 total fatalities have been discovered, and more than 270 structures have been impacted, Maui County officials said.
The Lahaina blaze was one of several that devastated entire towns in Hawaii, initially spread by winds from Hurricane Dora as it passed far to the south on 08AUG, according to CBS News. Some areas of the Kohala Coast on the island of Hawaii were also evacuated because of the fires.
As of 09AUG at 8:00 p.m., all mandatory evacuations have been lifted, according to the county's website.
The wildfires have raised concerns about travel safety to the popular destination. Tourism officials have reported a substantial wave of cancellations and hotels that once teemed with visitors now stand vacant.
Non-essential travel to Maui is strongly discouraged at this time, while visitors currently on Maui for non-essential reasons are being asked to leave as rescue and recovery efforts continue. Both residents and tourists are urged to stay informed through official sources and adhere to evacuation orders and road closures.
In response to the Maui wildfires, Air Canada cancelled its flight from Maui to Vancouver on 08AUG as access to the airport was closed, reports CTV News. The report also says an Air Canada evacuation aircraft left YVR on the evening of 09AUG, bound for the island, to pick up stranded passengers.
According to CBC News, WestJet also cancelled two flights from YVR to Kahului on 09AUG. Both airlines said they are continuing to monitor the situation.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority is encouraging visitors who have travel plans to West Maui in the coming weeks to consider rescheduling their travel plans. Visitors heading to other parts of Maui and the Mauna Kea Resort area of Hawaii Island are encouraged to contact their hotels for updated information and how their travel plans may be affected.
WestJet has posted a travel advisory on flights and vacation packages, and flexible change/cancel guidelines have been announced for all guests travelling to Kahului between 09-11AUG, 2023.
Air Canada has also implemented a policy that allows passengers who purchased a ticket that includes a flight to, from or via Maui (OGG) for travel between 09-13AUG, 2023, to make voluntary changes to their itinerary.
CNN reports that other airlines, including Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, allow passengers to change travel plans to Maui without penalty.
As firefighting operations continue, the situation remains fluid, and the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, alongside its partners and officials, said they would maintain their commitment to updating the public and supporting the affected regions.
Travel to Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, and other parts of Hawaiʻi Island are not affected at this time.