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Live Updates: Multiple Devastating Fires Ravage Maui, Historic Lahaina Destroyed

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

Thursday, August 24 Update

As police officials work through the challenges in identifying the individual incinerated bodies of Lahaina’s victims, the death toll has climbed to 115.

With over 1,000 people still missing, the catastrophe will take months to conclude the true loss of this community.

To donate directly to individual survivors who lost everything, visit @lahaina_ohana_venmo on Instagram.

Thursday, August 10 Update

The death toll currently stands at 36. However, with many first-person videos and accounts through online commentary directly stating that multiple bodies were strewn around Lahaina, this number is sure to rise.

The professional watermen on Maui continued to share their experiences through their Instagram stories, including Jaws champion Ian Walsh commending his younger twin brothers, DK and Shaun, who are fighting the fires alongside the Maui Fire Department.

Zane Kekoa Schweitzer shared his continuing contribution to the relief effort by coordinating a donation collection where supplies can be brought to Kahului Harbor from 8-10 am HST, which will then be loaded onto a boat and shuttled over to Lahaina by water. Schweitzer said the most needed items include clothes, hygienic supplies like toothbrushes and feminine care products, pillows and blankets, gas generators, and baby supplies like 3-6 month diapers and formula.

Coconut Willie lived up to his name as he and Waikomo Shave Ice founder Thomas Oliver brought a truckload of fresh-picked coconuts to multiple locations housing evacuees in order to help them hydrate, and also to share hugs and aloha, which is exactly what Willie called for in one of his stories, saying emotional support is one of the greatest needs right now.

Non-essential visitors were asked to leave Maui to free up shelter for displaced locals, and airlines arranged additional late-night flights to get tourists off the island, according to Maui Now News. Non-essential travel to Maui is highly discouraged during the immediate recovery from the fires.

Where to Donate

In addition to donations made directly to the Hawaii Red Cross, a tremendous number of individuals started GoFundMe accounts for fire recovery and support for displaced residents, alongside local businesses like Laulima, which gave 100% of their profits from the day to fire relief. 

To highlight just a few, as of Thursday morning on Maui, the Hawaii Community Foundation had raised $35,407.69, the Na Wahine Toa Foundation (link accessible via Instagram through @nawahinetoa or @thekuproject) had raised $796,484.28, and local athlete Slater Trout had raised $73,290.

Additional fundraising sources that can be supported include ‘Aina Momona, the Hawaiian Council, the Maui Mutual Aid Fund, Hui O Wa’a Kaulua, and the Lahui Foundation.

Wednesday, August 9

The typically peaceful scene of Lahaina’s Front Street shifted on Tuesday from happy tourists eating and shopping to an apocalyptic hellscape that looked nothing like Maui.

The sky was so black with smoke that midday looked like deep night lit only by the orange light of the fires engulfing historic businesses.

Explosions could be heard as the consistent, heavy gusts of wind that started the fires ravaging Maui all day on August 8 blew residue and smoke around evacuated Front Street.

Some residents were even forced to jump into Lahaina harbor to escape the rushing flames being shifted by the 30-40 mph wind that occasionally gusted up to 60-80 mph, with water safety and Coast Guard being called in to the assist with over a dozen rescues.

Much of the historic center of Lahaina, the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii 200 years ago steeped in pre-contact history, is believed to have been destroyed, according to Hawaii News Now.

Photo: Maui News

The famous Banyan Tree at the Lahaina Harbor, which stood over 60 ft. tall and was 150 years old, has been destroyed.

The death toll currently stands at 6 fatalities.

Hawaii News Now featured evacuated Lahaina locals like Tiare Lawrence and her family, sharing their experiences about seeing people literally running for their lives, working to evacuate elderly family members and rescue what they could from homes they grew up in, explaining that within an hour of realizing they were in danger, their entire home and everything they ever knew was gone.

Lawrence said there are definitely casualties connected to the fire, though the full magnitude of those deaths will take time to become available. Early Wednesday morning, additional locals fearing for family in Lahaina still awaited answers.

“I haven’t heard from my mom since yesterday at 5 p.m., and they are still out of power,” said local artist Amanda Mayers, who lives in Haiku but grew up in Lahaina with her mother, whose apartment sits just off of Front Street. “I think my mom lost her apartment. My stomach is in knots.”

All Maui schools were closed on Tuesday — and remained closed Wednesday, when they became emergency shelters — as fires raged on West Maui and upcountry in Kula, where 1,000 acres burned and 80 people were evacuated.

Kahului Airport served as an overnight shelter-in-place for 1,800 people stranded by the closure of westside highways, with another 1,200-plus individuals finding refuge at the Maui High School gymnasium.

No traffic is being allowed to West Maui as the Honoapi’ilani and Kahekili Highways remain closed to all but emergency personnel.

The King Kamehameha III Elementary School on Maui has reportedly burned to the ground along with the rest of Lahaina.

Maui Now News reported that as of the dawn hours of Wednesday morning, Lahaina’s 911 emergency services have been overwhelmed to the point where people can no longer call 911 or the Lahaina station for help, but can only text 2-911 hoping for a response.

Additional brush fires in Kihei and Wailuku broke out Tuesday night, further complicating the emergency response and placing more strain on the beleaguered firefighters.

More than 2,100 people were housed overnight in emergency shelters at Maui Preparatory Academy in Napili, Maui High School in Kahului, War Memorial Center, and Tavares Community Center in Pukalani, Maui Now News reported, along with the fact that 100 firefighters have been battling the blazes.

With its high winds and drought-stricken, perennially overgrown terrain, fires on Maui happen yearly, often leaving scorched land near the airport or on the hill emblazoned with Lahainaluna High School’s “L.”

Alan Dickar / AP

A fire last year burning so much of the old sugarcane fields that many stolen, dismantled cars that had simply disappeared were unearthed.

But the residual winds of the recently passed Hurricane Dora whipped up these many fires with rapid succession, beginning in the dawn hours of Tuesday in Kula and spreading quickly from Upcountry to West Maui, where Lahaina was decimated.

Home to many of professional surfing’s most prolific athletes, the Maui fires have seen athletes taking to social media with updates. Freesurfer Coconut Willie assured his followers he’s safe in Haiku, and offered his home to anyone seeking shelter when escaping West Maui.

Haiku is uniquely safe area of the island in this chaos as the primary wind source comes from the ocean, blowing any fires away from the town and its residents and businesses in the current conditions.

Champion paddle boarder Zane Kekoa Schweitzer, who lives near Lahaina with his wife Kimberly Yap and their young son Kahele, who’s not even three months old, said through his Instagram story Wednesday morning that he hasn’t been able to reach his wife for over 12 hours and couldn’t get home due to the road closures.

He also shared that a firefighter friend told him, like Lawrence said on HNN, that there are definitely considerable casualties connected to the fire, a number emergency services are working to calculate Wednesday.

Schweitzer said in another story that he’s working to coordinate getting supplies to West Maui, including a boat taxi to ferry supplies in from Oahu through coordination with a friend there, even though the burned down docks at Lahaina make those measures drastically more challenging.

Schweitzer repeatedly stressed the need for radios in order to communicate, as cell phone and landline communications remained inoperable on Wednesday morning.

Big wave charger Albee Layer was off island when the fires broke out, but repeatedly shared through his Instagram stories that his home and his family’s home in Haiku has rooms available for residents seeking refuge, and he shared an announcement from the Boba Bar in Paia that they were serving as a pop up shop for Maui firefighters offering donated pre-made meals, snacks, and water to the rescuers starting at 6 am Wednesday morning.

Waterman Kai Lenny shared footage of emergency helicopters taking off from Kahului with water to fight the fires Wednesday morning, along with footage from inside a helicopter looking down on an obliterated Lahaina Harbor, with the pilot in the shared video stating,

“Oh my gosh…unbelievable…it just looks like Baghdad or something,” referencing Iraqi cities leveled by war.

As two fires have also broken out on Big Island, Lenny also shared the locations for shelter on both Maui and Hawai’i, including Hannibal Tavares Community Center, Lahaina Civic Center, and Kihei Community Center on Maui and Waimea Community Center and Hisaoka Gym on Big Island, with additional updates available through Red Cross Hawaii.

Maui News Now shared audio from KISS FM Maui where Ed Kanoi interviewed Richard Olsten, owner of Air Maui Helicopters, who described the scene they found in West Maui on Wednesday morning, saying,

“What we saw was disturbing because it was such utter destruction. There’s hundreds of homes that are burnt to the ground, hundreds of people that are displaced with no place to go. The place literally looked like a war zone, like it had been bombed.”

“There’s just nothing left: all of Front Street is gone, the Harbour, all the boats are burned down to the water. It’s beyond description with words, it’s a horrible, horrible sight.” Olsten went on to say Maui needs to come together to help the people who were displaced with access to shelter, food, clothing, and more. He then described the moment when the helicopter crews landed after flying over the wreckage, saying, “we just weren’t prepared for what we saw. All of us in the helicopter, when we landed, we were just looking at each other with tears in our eyes, we couldn’t believe it. It’s indescribable.”

This is a developing story that will be updated throughout the day.


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