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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 circumstances 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.
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