Planning to Visit Hawaii? Here’s What You Need to Know About the Wildfires. (2024)



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Devastating fires on Maui and the Big Island have destroyed businesses and homes, and caused at least 36 deaths. They are also upending tourism, leaving travelers wondering what to do.

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Planning to Visit Hawaii? Here’s What You Need to Know About the Wildfires. (1)

By Christine Chung and Ceylan Yeginsu

Large wildfires burning across the islands of Maui and Hawaii, fueled by intense winds, turned scenic beach destinations into smoky, catastrophic scenes on Wednesday. The fast-moving flames have scorched hundreds of acres, destroyed homes and businesses, and prompted a series of evacuation orders, road closures, and power and cellphone service outages. At least 36 people have died.

The fires are most intense along the western coast of Maui, according to local news reports, with the historic town center of Lahaina severely damaged.

Declaring a state of emergency in all counties, the Hawaiian state government has asked travelers to leave West Maui as soon as possible and is discouraging travel to the affected areas.

Here’s what travelers need to know.

Where are the fires?

According to the local news outlet Hawaii News Now, at least three wildfires are burning on Maui, including one in Lahaina, a major tourist destination on Maui, and the upcountry section of the island. There are at least three blazes on the Big Island, in North Kohala and South Kohala, which includes the Mauna Kea beach area, according to Big Island Now.

Can you fly to Maui and the Big Island?

Nonessential air travel is being discouraged by the Hawaiian authorities. Acting Gov. Sylvia Luke issued two emergency proclamations authorizing several actions, including activating the National Guard.

All travelers should monitor their flight status online or using the airline’s app before departing for the airport.

As of early Wednesday morning local time, Kahului Airport on Maui remains open and was sheltering about 1,800 travelers, the Hawaii Department of Transportation said. On Wednesday, most flights were operating as scheduled, according to FlightAware, an aviation tracking site, but some carriers are reporting inbound cancellations and delays. The two airports on the Big Island, Hilo International Airport and Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport, also remain open.

United Airlines, according to Josh Freed, a company spokesman, canceled all reservations on its inbound flights to Kahului Airport, “so our planes can fly empty to Maui and be used as passenger flights back to the mainland.”

“Our teams are monitoring the situation closely and adjusting our schedule so we can keep serving our customers under difficult conditions,” he wrote in an email. United is offering refunds for passengers who want to cancel their flights.

American Airlines has also canceled reservations on inbound flights to Kahului Airport, said Curtis Blessing, a company spokesman. The carrier is rebooking passengers at no charge, as long as certain conditions are met.

Other major carriers were operating their scheduled flights but are offering a variety of options to affected travelers who want to revise their plans.

Passengers on Hawaiian Airlines can change their flight plans or get refunds, said Marissa Villegas, a company spokeswoman. The airline operates more than 80 flights daily in and out of Maui. It is also offering special $19 fares from Maui for urgent travel needs.

Southwest Airlines operates at least 90 daily flights in Hawaii, 60 of them within the state. Those who booked with Southwest traveling from or to Maui on Wednesday or Thursday can rebook at no charge, but refunds are available only if your flight is canceled by the airline.

Travelers who booked with Alaska Airlines can change their flights but must travel before Aug. 31. According to a company spokesperson, the eight daily flights to Maui are operating, some with delays.


What’s the latest with travel on and between the islands?

The Hawaii Department of Transportation is providing timely information on road conditions, highway closures and airport status updates through social media. All nonessential travel to Maui is discouraged, the department said.

Hawaiian Airlines has added six more flights on Wednesday between Honolulu and Kahului.

Those flying between islands should monitor their flight status on their carrier’s app or website and be aware that changes may come unexpectedly.

Numerous road closures were announced for both Maui and the Big Island, according to The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, with the Honoapiilani Highway on the west coast of Maui remaining open to outbound traffic only.

Can I get a refund from my hotel or short-term rental?

On X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, travelers have written that major hotels near the wildfires in Maui have closed and been evacuated. Several popular resorts, including Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa at Ka’anapali Beach and the Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club, currently do not have power.

The Hyatt Regency is closed to new arrivals and will not accept new guests through Aug. 11, the company said in a statement, adding that any booking deposits, including prepaid stays, for these dates will be refunded.

Other major resorts in the area could not be immediately reached for comment.

Most of the major hotel chains have already instituted more flexible cancellation policies because of the pandemic, but Marriott, Hilton and others did not respond to requests for comment on their specific policies related to the wildfires.

For those travelers who booked accommodations with Airbnb, the company has activated its “extenuating circ*mstances policy” for parts of Maui. Eligible guests with reservations will receive a full refund, and both hosts and guests can cancel bookings penalty-free, the company said on Wednesday.

According to Vrbo, wildfires and other natural disasters do not override typical cancellation policies. However, for bookings on Maui and parts of the Big Island between Aug. 9 and 16, the company said, “Vrbo has already waived host penalties for cancellations, which means hosts can cancel and refund their guests without worrying about how it will affect their listing performance in future guest’s searches.”

Vrbo recommends that guests reach out to the hosts of their bookings for more information, as well as their travel insurance provider if they bought trip protection.

Would travel insurance help?

Most travel insurance policies have trip cancellation coverage for natural disasters, but it’s important to read the fine print of your policy to see if wildfires are covered under the reasons for trip cancellation or interruption.

In most cases, travelers will have coverage if their destination is made uninhabitable or if they are forced to evacuate with at least 50 percent of their trip remaining, according to Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison site. If a hotel or holiday rental cancels your reservation before your arrival because of damage caused by a wildfire, most travel insurance plans provide coverage.

Policies with “cancel for any reason” coverage do not require travelers to state a reason for their cancellation, but some travel insurers apply restrictions to the benefit. For most policies that include coverage for wildfires, the policy must be purchased before the event occurs.

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram and sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to get expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places to Go in 2023.

Christine Chung is a travel reporter for The Times. She previously covered breaking news. She joined The Times in November 2021. More about Christine Chung

Ceylan Yeginsu is a travel reporter. She was previously a correspondent for the International desk in Britain and Turkey, covering politics; social justice; the migrant crisis; the Kurdish conflict, and the rise of Islamic State extremism in Syria and the region. More about Ceylan Yeginsu


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Planning to Visit Hawaii? Here’s What You Need to Know About the Wildfires. (2024)


What islands are burning in Hawaii? ›

Six fires are burning in Maui and the Big Island, but officials said the Lahaina fire is now 85% contained. Many of the town's historic landmarks are lost. Green said the fires are likely to be the largest natural disaster in the state's history.

What I wish I knew before traveling to Hawaii? ›

12 things to know before visiting Hawaii
  • Decide the best time to go. ...
  • You'll need to make some reservations in advance. ...
  • Respect Hawaiian culture. ...
  • Underdress for success. ...
  • Know your ʻokina. ...
  • Learn the local surfing etiquette. ...
  • Be aware of floods. ...
  • Protect your belongings.

Is the Big Island of Hawaii affected by the fires? ›

The fires have also scorched parts of the Big Island. Some 271 structures were destroyed or damaged, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser said, citing official reports from the U.S. Civil Air Patrol and Maui Fire Department. Hawaii is an archipelago about 2,000 miles (3,200 km) west of the U.S. mainland.

How is Oahu affected by Maui fires? ›

A: Multiple wildfires are affecting areas on Maui (Lahaina, Kihei, and Upcountry Maui). These fires have resulted in the evacuation of thousands of residents and visitors, and multiple road closures. Wildfires on Hawaiʻi Island are now contained and the islands of Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi remain unaffected.

What are the two forbidden islands in Hawaii? ›

Tourism is very limited on the two islands in order to preserve the Hawaiian past and present.

How much of Maui is destroyed? ›

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green previously estimated that about 80% of the city was destroyed in the Lahaina fire, the most devastating of three large wildfires that broke out on the island Tuesday, and have torched an estimated 3.39 square miles. The Lahaina fire was about 85% contained, Maui County officials said Sunday.

How many days in Hawaii is enough? ›

And, you'll really want at least 4-7 days per island. Staying a shorter amount of time than that (especially for a first trip) will leave you feeling disappointed that you couldn't stay longer. The ideal Hawaii vacation is actually about 10 days.

How much does it cost to go to Hawaii for 7 days? ›

How much does a trip to Hawaii cost? The average cost of a one week trip to Hawaii is $4000. Accommodation in Hawaii is the most expensive cost at an average of $275/night. Flights range from $500-$1000 roundtrip, and the average food and drink cost is almost $100/day.

What time of year is it best to visit Hawaii? ›

Generally, the best time to visit Hawaii for the most ideal overall weather, lowest statewide rates, and the fewest visitors on-island is April and May during the spring and September and October during the fall. Some refer to these times as Hawaii's 'off-season period' or 'shoulder months.'

Is it safe to travel to Hawaii due to volcano? ›

So you won't experience vog when you're on any of the other islands, unless there are Kona winds. So overall, it's always generally safe to travel to Hawaii, even with the volcanic eruptions.

Which hazard is the most concerning on the island of Hawaii and why? ›

In terms of loss of human life, storm surge and high surf are the deadliest natural hazards in the Hawaiian Islands. Storms from any part of the Pacific can cause big swells and high surf on Hawaiian coasts.

Does Hawaii sit on the Ring of Fire? ›

Land areas. Volcanoes in the central parts of the Pacific Basin, for example the Hawaiian Islands, are very far from subduction zones and they are not part of the Ring of Fire.

Is it safe to go to Maui right now? ›

Nonessential inbound travel to Maui is strongly discouraged, Ed Sniffen, director of the Hawaii State Department of Transportation, said Wednesday at a news conference.

Is it safe to travel to Oahu right now? ›

Yes, you can visit Hawaii right now.

What is the biggest threat to Hawaii? ›

The impacts of climate change are a significant threat to Hawaiʻi's ecosystems and communities.

What island is the eruption on in Hawaii? ›

Kilauea, the youngest and most active volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, erupted early Wednesday morning, officials said, sending fountains of lava spewing skyward before pooling and spreading across its summit.

Why is Maui burning? ›

Two weather events conspired to create hazardous conditions on Maui: First, the island has been experiencing a drought, which turned vegetation into fuel. Second, a cyclone passing to the south created sustained high winds, which whipped the fires across the island.

How many people are still missing in Maui? ›

How many people are missing in Maui? Officials said they do not have a final count of how many people are missing, but some estimates have put the figure at 1,000 people. Two bodies recovered from the devastation have been identified using DNA, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said.

Which Hawaiian island is over the hotspot? ›

Today the Big Island of Hawaii sits over the hot spot and has the only active volcanoes in that island group. Konala, Hualaiai, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes have built the island over the last 500,000 years. Mauna Loa volcano is the largest volcano on Earth.


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