What to Know About Maui’s Wildfire Recovery Efforts and How Travelers Can Help

West Maui hotels and resorts are not taking future bookings at this time as officials focus on search and recovery efforts in what is now the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than 100 years. Here’s how travelers can help those affected.

Burned cars and buildings along waterfront of Lāhainā

“The town of Lāhainā has been destroyed,” stated Hawai‘i Governor Josh Green, who assessed the damage over the weekend.

Courtesy of the Office of Hawai‘i Governor Josh Green

Less than a week after catastrophic wildfires blazed through several areas of the islands of Hawai‘i and Maui, the situation in western Maui—which received the brunt of the devastation—is truly heartbreaking.

“The town of Lāhainā has been destroyed,” Hawai‘i Governor Josh Green declared in his latest emergency proclamation, issued on Sunday. Lāhainā is located along the western coast of the island of Maui just south of the Ka‘anapali and Kapalua beach areas, and now that the fires have started to subside, the extreme toll of the infernos is gradually coming into focus.

The Lāhainā fire is already the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century with the death toll having climbed to 96. And officials have warned that the effort to find and identify the dead is “still in its early stages,” the Associated Press reported.

“The fires have caused significant loss of life and property in Maui County. Thousands of people are without adequate shelter,” Governor Green stated. The state has launched a Hawaiʻi Fire Relief Housing Program aimed at connecting displaced Maui residents with available rooms and accommodations.

“We are going to need to house thousands of people. We are asking folks in the community to rent out those extra rooms, the ‘ohana units or accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in their homes, vacation rentals, or whatever safe and secure rooms they have available,” stated Governor Green.

Is Maui closed to tourists?

Visitors are being asked to postpone travel plans to west Maui for the coming weeks and months as recovery efforts are underway. The many travelers who were in Maui at the time of the wildfires have “largely heeded the call to leave the island,” according to the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, which reported that around 46,000 people have flown out of Maui’s Kahului Airport (OGG) since Wednesday.

Hotels in West Maui have temporarily stopped accepting future bookings and many hotels in the area are housing employees, evacuees, and first responders in lieu of vacationers.

“While efforts are underway to restore basic services, like power and communications, visitors are encouraged to refrain from attempting to reach west Maui accommodations for reservation adjustments until the situation improves,” the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority stated.

Among the properties affected have been the Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua and the Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Kaanapali, both of which have advisories on their websites stating that they remain temporarily closed. Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa hotel is currently closed through September 5. And the Outrigger Hospitality Group reported on its website that its 18-room bed-and-breakfast the Plantation Inn located in the historic Lāhainā Town “has been irreparably damaged as a result of the devastating wildfires.”

Travel to the other Hawaiian Islands, like Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Lānaʻi, and Hawaiʻi Island, are not affected at this time, according to the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority.

Maui travel update

Kahului Airport (OGG) on Maui remains open, according to Hawai‘i’s Department of Transportation, but the airport has been sheltering evacuees and thousands of travelers who have been stranded by the catastrophe, Maui County reported.

In light of the wildfires and devastation, all of the major U.S. airlines have issued travel waivers. While all major U.S. carriers dropped most of their change fees (for all but Basic Economy seats) during the pandemic, typically a fare difference will still apply, unless there is an official emergency-related waiver.

Hawaiian Airlines has a waiver in place for all flights to and from Maui’s Kahului Airport between August 9 and August 31, 2023. The state airline has added extra flights to help get travelers and evacuees out of Maui, and it is selling seats through August 20, 2023, for just $19 “to facilitate urgent travel out of Maui.”

Southwest Airlines has informed its customers that those holding reservations for travel to, from, or through Kahului through September 4 can rebook in the original class of service or travel standby within 14 days of their original date of travel between the original city-pairs with no additional charges. For flights that are canceled, customers can request a refund. Travelers can also exchange their flights that were scheduled for Kahului for flights to Hilo and Kona (on the island of Hawai‘i), Honolulu (on O’ahu), or Lihue (on Kauaʻi), for no extra charge.

Those scheduled to travel to or from the islands of Maui, O’ahu, Hawai‘i, or Kauaʻi with American Airlines will have their change fee waived until August 18 for any class of travel if they reschedule or cancel their flight.

United Airlines has a travel alert in place allowing those traveling to Kahului through September 16 to reschedule without incurring a fare difference for a new flight that departs by November 18, 2023. Tickets must be in the same cabin and between the same cities as originally booked, or in lieu of Maui, travelers can opt to fly to Honolulu, Kona, or Lihue instead. Passengers can also cancel and bank the credit or cancel and request a refund, according to the carrier.

Delta Air Lines has a fare difference waiver in place for travel to and from Maui for flights that were scheduled through August 31, 2023, as long as the new flights take place by August 31, 2023. After that, a fare difference may be applied.

Lāhainā's beloved giant 150-year-old banyan tree, badly scorched but still standing

Lāhainā's beloved 150-year-old banyan tree was badly scorched during the wildfires but is still standing.

Courtesy of the Office of Hawai‘i Governor Josh Green

How to help Maui

For travelers witnessing the tragedy from afar and wondering how they can help, several organizations have jumped in to provide aid and assistance.

American Red Cross

Red Cross teams are in Hawai‘i faciliating shelters for the displaced, which includes thousands of residents and tourists who have been evacuated to O‘ahu, and providing them with food and emotional support. “When it is safe to do so, Red Cross teams will help with damage assessment and distributing relief supplies,” the global aid organization said in a statement about its Hawai‘i wildfire relief efforts.

Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement

This nonprofit organization that supports Native Hawaiians is raising support “for ‘ohana impacted by the devastating wildfires on Maui.”

Maui Food Bank

The Maui Food Bank, which distributes food to the hungry in Maui County, is raising money to help feed residents of Maui who have been displaced by the fires.

Maui Strong Fund

The Hawai‘i Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses its efforts on creating an equitable and vibrant Hawai‘i, has developed the Maui Strong Fund to provide shelter, food, financial assistance, and other services to residents.

Maui United Way

Community aid organization Maui United Way has created a fund a Maui Fire Disaster Relief Fund that will assist victims of the fires.

This story was originally published on August 9, 2023, and has been updated to include current information.

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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