Morning Briefing: A Major Disaster in Hawaii

Also, Japan at the World Cup.

Video taken from a helicopter of the devastated town of Lahaina on Thursday.
Richie Olsten via Associated Press

As the death toll from wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui climbed to 36, President Biden issued a major disaster declaration. Evacuation centers filled, tourists fled and rescuers searched for survivors.

Fueled by unusual conditions that included winds from a distant hurricane, the fire now ranks as one of the nation’s deadliest in decades. Flames burned with such intensity that at least a dozen people escaped into the Pacific Ocean, where they were later rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Tad Craig, a wedding photographer who saw the wildfire on Tuesday in the town of Lahaina, said gas tanks were exploding and smoke was blowing sideways. “It was just a total inferno — Armageddon,” he said.

Officials said the fires had been largely contained, but were still generating smoke and ash. The authorities on Maui were forced to evacuate 11,000 tourists, the lifeblood of the local economy. The island is one of America’s most beloved vacation destinations.

Hawaii has battled a surge of fires in recent years. Declining rainfall, rising temperatures and invasive species have turned the islands into a tinderbox.

Take a look: These aerial photos of Lahaina, taken yesterday, and satellite images show the scale of the destruction.

The American detainees were transferred from Evin Prison in Tehran to a hotel.Wana News Agency, via Reuters

After more than two years of quiet negotiations, Iran agreed to release five Iranian American dual citizens in exchange for several jailed Iranians in the U.S. and the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iran’s oil revenue, according to several people familiar with the deal.

The five dual citizens were released into house arrest as a first step in the agreement, U.S. officials said. They will be held at a hotel in Tehran for several weeks until they are allowed to leave Iran.

The prisoners are Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi, Morad Tahbaz and two others — a scientist and a businessman — whose families withheld their names. Under the deal, the $6 billion will be placed in an account controlled by Qatar and regulated so that Iran can use the funds only to pay for humanitarian purchases such as medicine and food.

The deal with Iran — a bitter adversary of the U.S. — is the latest prisoner swap engineered in secret by the Biden administration in an effort to bring home Americans whom the State Department deems wrongfully detained in foreign countries.

Fernando Villavicencio, who was killed last night, speaking earlier that day at a campaign rally.Karen Toro/Reuters

Fernando Villavicencio, who was gunned down on Wednesday at a campaign rally in the capital, Quito, had been vocal about ties between government officials and organized crime. Concerns over drug-related violence have dominated Ecuador’s presidential race as it heads into the first round of voting on Aug. 20.

A suspect was shot in crossfire with security forces and died shortly after, an official said. Later, six people were detained in connection with the assassination.

In just a few years, Ecuador has become the drug trade’s gold rush state, with major cartels joining forces with prison and street gangs.

Heavily damaged buildings in the center of Kupiansk, Ukraine, on Aug. 6.Emile Ducke for The New York Times
Amadou Adramane, second from right, one of the prominent figures in the military insurrection, in the Nigerien capital, Niamey last weekend.Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Hinata Miyazawa, left, during team practice in Auckland.Abbie Parr/Associated Press

Japan won the Women’s World Cup in 2011 but entered this year’s tournament ranked 11th by FIFA, a sign of how far its fortunes had slid. Now it’s back to playing like a champion, and it might be the tournament’s most impressive contender.

Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s video installations focus on people who live in the shadow of the two long wars for Vietnamese independence.Courtesy New Museum. Photo: Dario Lasagni

One of the wisest, most beautiful and unsettling exhibitions in New York this summer, our critic Roberta Smith writes, is by the artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen. His video installations and sculptures show how the Vietnam War reverberates through generations. It is his first major show in an American museum.

Nguyen was born in Vietnam, in 1976, and came to the U.S. with his family three years later. In 2005 he moved to Ho Chi Minh City, where he continues to live. His work aims to heal the fragmented lives and retrieve the suppressed memories of the marginalized people most affected by colonization, war and displacement, especially in Vietnam.

Johnny Miller for The New York Times

Smashed, salted cucumbers pair with avocados for a creamy salad.

Hear 16 essential songs from Robbie Robertson, chief songwriter and guitarist for the Band, who died this week at 80.

Tobi Ogundiran’s collection “Jackal, Jackal: Tales of the Dark and Fantastic” is on our list of recommended horror novels.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Opposite of pro (four letters).

And here are today’s Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you on Monday. — Justin

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