No injuries were reported and officials had not confirmed whether any structures had burned, Hawaii County Fire Capt. Felix Asia said. Nearby tourist hotels were not threatened.
The evacuation order affected 75 percent of the town's 6,500 residents, Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency acting administrator Lanny Nakano said. Officials turned a community center and elementary school into evacuation centers; a resort opened its ballroom to evacuees and another school offered dorm rooms.
Yuki Potter said she packed up her valuables and left Tuesday afternoon when the smoke got too bad.
"My eyes were stinging and it was really smoky, really black and really close to the village," she said from a friend's home in nearby Kona.
Linda Harlow told The Honolulu Advertiser that she had little warning before the order came.
"We back up to a natural area and it was burning right outside our home," she said. "People were trying to grab what they could. We had like five minutes."
By late Tuesday, the fire had charred more than 25,000 acres along the Kohala Coast on the west side of the island. Fire crews hoped to contain it Wednesday, Capt. Felix Asia said at a mobile command post.