HONOLULU (KHON) — With fires raging on Maui, two men felt there was nowhere to escape the flames – except for the ocean.
The two men live in Lahaina, a historic part of Maui loved by tourists, which appears to be heavily damaged by this week’s raging fire. They described a terrifying scene as they evacuated from Prison Street, right in the heart of Lahaina.
“I saw a couple people just running, I heard screams out of hell … explosions. It felt like we were in hell, it really was. It was just indescribable,” one of the men told Nexstar’s KHON. They didn’t give their names in the on-camera interview.
“You couldn’t really see anything, sometimes it was just blacked out by the smoke, but you could still see the flames,” said the other man.
They said they were sheltering by a home near the wharf Tuesday evening, but winds were blowing heat from the fire toward them, and it began burning their skin. After about 30 minutes, they said the heat became too much to handle.
The two men called the police and said they were advised to jump in the water, which they did. But even wading in the water, the heat was still burning their bodies.
They held onto the jetty until they were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard.
One of the men said once the Coast Guard arrived, they knew they’d survive. “I was like, after everything I’ve done, I don’t want to go out this way,” he said. “We’re like Coast Guard is here, hell or high water, we’re getting out.”
Others were not as lucky.
Maui County said late Wednesday that at least 36 people had died, making it the deadliest U.S. blaze since the 2018 Camp Fire in California, which killed at least 85 people and laid waste to the town of Paradise.
Three separate wildfires have been burning on the Hawaiian island of Maui. The fires prompted 13 evacuations, Bissen said, and there was only one road in and out.
More than 2,100 people spent the night in four shelters on the island. State officials said they did not want any visitors to come to Maui, and that current visitors should leave.
Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, who is serving as acting governor because Gov. Josh Green was out of state, said shelters are overflowing and resources are taxed. Thirty power lines are also down, leaving homes, hotels and shelters without electricity.
The Lahaina fire is not yet under control, Bissen said, and officials have not determined what started the wildfires.
“I can tell you that we did not anticipate having this many fires simultaneously,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.