Maui Mayor Mike Victorino told a press conference the fire started on Thursday morning local time. Hawaii is 11 hours behind the UK. By nightfall the blaze has not been contained and Mr Victorino said: “We can’t fight the fire tonight. “We’re not going to send any firefighters into harm’s way.”
He said fire crews would remain on-call throughout the night in case the flames neared any structures or residential areas.
He added: “The fire department is trying to take care of what we can take care of.”
No structures have been destroyed so far, although county officials noted that some farm equipment had burned. No injuries had been reported, either.
People forced from their homes are being advised to seek shelter at the War Memorial Gymnasium, the Kihei Community Center, or Kamalii Elementary School, with nearly 500 people having done so by the early evening.
Emergency alerts were sent to mobile phones from emergency management officials that read: “KIHEI RESIDENTS NORTH OF OHUKAI RD EVACUATE NOW. KAMALII SCHOOL SHELTER OPEN NOW.”
Barely an hour later, residents of nearby Maalaea, west of the initial evacuation, were also told to seek shelter immediately.
Mayor Victorino added: “We are asking everyone to conserve energy, conserve water, and do what you can to be prepared.
“If you need to evacuate please be aware of what’s going on around you.”
The fire were being fanned by 20 miles per hour winds, with at least two helicopters carrying out water drops to trying douse the flames.
The cloud of smoke from the fire is big enough to be visible from outer space, the National Weather Service says.
There were also concerns about the safety of hundreds of dogs, cats and other animals threatened by the blaze, with the the Maui Humane Society rescuing several hundred of them.
The organisation tweeted: “We’re hunkered down at Maui Highschool with all the animals safe and sound. As soon as we have any updates we’ll be sure to let you know.
“So many mahalos to our Maui community for stepping right up when we needed you most!”
Twitter users posted spectacular pictures of the blaze using the #maui hashtag.
Hawaiian Airlines tweeted: “Due to the #MauiFire and road closure in Kīhei, Maui, we are offering our guests travel waivers for flights departing to/from/via Kahului (OGG) and Kapalua (JHM) on July 11 or July 12, 2019. For more information, please visit https://on.hwnair.com/30B4Jfn
Neighbouring Big Island is still recovering from last year’s eruptive activity at Kilauea volcano, which forced more than a thousand people to be evacuated, as well as destroying more than 700 buildings.