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Maui fire: Raging brush fire forces thousands of Hawaiians to evacuate their homes

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Smoke from the brush fire raging in central Maui, Hawaii, is seen in a video screengrab from HawaiiNewsNow, July 11, 2019. HawaiiNewsNow

Wailuku, Hawaii -- A brush fire has prompted thousands of evacuations and diverted some flights on the Hawaii island of Maui, officials said Thursday. An evacuation notice was sent to the cellphones of residents in the town of Maalaea and in parts of Kihei, a Maui County official said.

The county has opened shelters in Wailuku and Kihei, at least one of which quickly filled up according to CBS News affiliate HawaiiNewsNow.

Access in and out of Kihei on Maui was blocked as of 3:15 p.m., the Maui News reported.

"We are asking everyone to conserve energy, conserve water, and do what you can to be prepared," Maui Mayor Mike Victorino said. "If you need to evacuate please be aware of what's going on around you."

Multiple people sent tweets asking Oprah Winfrey to open a private road through her property on Maui, to allow people to escape from Kihei.

Oprah replied on Twitter to one of the requests, saying: "Access to the road was given to county officials immediately. This was many hours ago. Hoping for the safety of all."

Hawaii Governor David Ige sent a tweet thanking the media mogul "for giving @mauicounty access to your private road for use to assist in the #Mauifire."

Some flights to the island's main airport in Kahului were diverted because the fire was affecting access to the facility, the state Department of Transportation said on Twitter.

The National Weather Service office in Hawaii posted a photo to Twitter showing smoke from the blaze as seen from an orbiting satellite. 

Hawaiian Airlines said its flights were operating as scheduled, but spokesman Alex Da Silva said the airline was urging passengers to check the status of their flights because the situation was evolving.

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Smoke and flames rise from an out-of-control brush fire in central Maui, Hawaii, July 12, 2019. DRUMNICO.cOM/YOUTUBE

Officials say the fire started along Kuihelani Highway, which runs between Kahului and Maalaea, Thursday morning.

HawaiiNewsNow reported that officials were also forced to evacuate several hundred animals from the Maui Humane Society, but they were all said to be safe by Thursday afternoon.