‘Lahaina will never be the same’: Maui wildfires devastate local residents, environment
Redmond Bernhold | Friday, August 25, 2023
Maui’s catastrophic wildfires have left many residents homeless, missing or dead. With at least 114 people dead in Lahaina and over 850 people still missing, residents are caring for each other to preserve their generational connection to Maui.
Alex Vento, a junior from Lower Kula, grew up on several islands but has spent most of his life in Maui.
Vento said the wildfire source started upcountry but embers moved because of Hurricane Dora and started more fires.
He said his family was one of the first families to evacuate the area, safely fleeing at 4 a.m.
Kali Spalding, a sophomore from Makawao, described the direct impact of the fires on her friends and family.
“A lot of friends completely lost everything they had,” she said.
Her grandmother’s house, located in an agriculturally rich area, is facing a severe water advisory. Spalding said the house has “no water to drink and no water to shower” and noted that boiling water intensifies the pollutant. The issue persists despite water transportation efforts.
Spalding’s mother works at King Kekaulike High School, which could not welcome students back until Tuesday.
Junior Anjeleigh Dela Cruz, a resident from Kihei, estimated that the fire came about 100 yards from her community. Her family evacuated, packing what they could in limited time, and went to Dela Cruz’s aunt’s house in Wailuku. Dela Cruz spent some time volunteering after the fires ravaged the community.
“I was working with the Red Cross but it was under the county. And…seeing all of that [tragedy], it’s very sobering,” Dela Cruz said about her volunteering experience.
Dela Cruz’s grandparents lost their home in the flames.
“My grandma and my grandpa, their house is completely gone. They lost everything. They have nothing but basically the clothes on their back and whatever documents they could grab,” she said.
Despite the tragedy, residents from other islands and Maui are supporting those most affected.
“There are people who don’t know where their families are,” Spalding said. She said that for Hawaiians, especially Maui residents, “everyone is family.”
Spalding also said the robust culture in Lahaina will not change. The words “mālama” (to care for, protect and preserve) and “kokua” (altruistic help) are values ever-present in Hawaii, she said.
Vento said it is also a “wound to tourism,” but that the people of Maui are “resistant” in restoring Lahaina and nearby land back to its state of prosperity.
“A whole community and area and lifestyle is just completely gone,” Dela Cruz said. “So many childhood memories for my mom and me” were lost in the fire, she added, including the charred Lahaina banyan tree.
Dela Cruz mentioned the hope she encountered while volunteering at another shelter.
“We had people flying in from other islands … and it was a constant line of people dropping off toilet paper, baby food, water and any necessities,” she said.
Dela Cruz said she hopes that the rebuilding of Lahaina and other parts of Maui will “keep moving forward, while honoring the past and respecting what has happened.”
Spalding offered advice to those with friends and family affected by the fires.
“In the midst of heartbreak, make sure you are loving and caring for those around you,” she said.
In response to the wildfires, Mikey Nguyen ’20 started a fundraising campaign to aid in replacing his family’s personal belongings, homes and cars. Their community ties are meaningful to both Lahaina residents and tourists with his mother working in the restaurant industry and his father as a taxi driver. The campaign notes that his family have been “proud members of the Lahaina community for over 35 years.”