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Why I Feel Personally Devastated By the Maui Wildfires (And You Should Be Too)

By August 18, 2023February 14th, 2024Current Events

Picture this: a family gets on an ~8 hour flight from Dallas to Kahului, Hawaii (island of Maui). They have two young girls: 5 and 2 years old. You can feel the tension as they board the plane, edging slowly down the aisle looking for their seats. The plane’s other occupants, already settled in for a long flight, eye the young children with veiled terror – who the heck brings such young kids on such a long flight? At the very least, they hold a hidden hope that the children don’t sit anywhere near them -at least that way they would be someone else’s problem.

Eventually the family finds their seats, puts their carry-ons in the overhead bins and under the seats in front of them, gets the kids settled in, buckles their seatbelts, holds their collective breaths, and hopes for the best.

This was me a little over 30 years ago: I’m the 5 year old girl and this is my very first trip to Hawaii. Sure, my sister and I were young (in fact, she was still in diapers – don’t tell her I shared this!), but our parents just decided they wanted to take a vacation to Hawaii, Maui specifically – because. So, here we were, forming core memories of a fantastic trip that would color much of our future vacations as a family. (And yes, I still do have memories of this trip.)

At the time we stayed in the Kaanapali area, a short drive from Lahaina. In subsequent family trips to Hawaii we stayed in various areas of the island, but every single Hawaii trip was ALWAYS about Maui. Since then, we have gone on about 3 or 4 other family trips to Hawaii.

One time we took my grandmother for a landmark birthday (she had been wanting to go her entire life!), and while we did still stay near Lahaina on Maui, we did take a brief detour to Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu (note: if you have never been to Pearl Harbor, you should go, it’s such an important landmark in the history of our country). Later, after embarking on my own adult life, I “forced” my new husband to go to Hawaii (okay, Maui…) for our honeymoon. (summary of conversation: Me: “Have you ever been to Hawaii?” Him: “…No.” Me: “We’re going to Hawaii.”)

Another time, a little later in life, we went to celebrate my father’s landmark birthday, with both my sister and our husbands in tow (they are both saints for staying in an AirBnb with their in-laws for a week). This was in 2018, and little did I know it would be the very last time I would lay eyes on Lahaina’s historic Front Street with its fisherman village charm, tourism-inspired local businesses, historic buildings (ICYDK: Lahaina was the historic capital of the Hawaiian islands) and overall laid-back, chill vibes that didn’t feel resort-y or manufactured like some areas of the island. It felt LOCAL, it felt AUTHENTIC, and it was full of a lifetime of memories.

I first heard about the Maui wildfires on August 9, when my family’s group text just lit up with messages about it. We started sharing memories, photos, and an overall atmosphere of profound sadness at the town’s devastation. So much history lost, so many memories, such a needless loss – especially the 150-ish year-old banyan tree in the Lahaina town square (at the time of writing this blog, the tree was severely damaged in the fires and arborists are unsure if it’s going to make it). For a few days after, as more news came out, I started to avoid any stories about the fires, since just glancing at the apocalyptic-looking photos brought about such a deep sadness within me.

We have lost a national treasure in the destruction of Lahaina, and Hawaii will never be the same again.

I think the most devastating thing is that I will never be able to experience the magic of the town of Lahaina with my young daughter. I actually have a video from a few years ago when we started feeding her solid foods (the questionable-looking mash of foods in this video included pineapple) where I semi-jokingly said I couldn’t wait until I would be able to share a “real” pineapple with my daughter on the beach in Hawaii someday. I guess you could argue that I still can, but it just won’t be the same.

The big question right now is: What can we do about all of this? My husband and I, who are big fans of the Hawaiian T-shirt brand Crazy Shirts, have been wearing our Crazy Shirts just about every day since we heard about the fires (all purchased at physical stores on the island of Maui at various locations) as our tiny form of solidarity. But of course that’s not enough.

Here are a few things you can do to help:

1/ Don’t travel to Maui right now. If you have a trip planned, cancel it! I hate to say it, but please cancel, switch, go to a different island – something but please stay away from Maui so responders can do their job!

2/ Donate, but be smart about who you donate to. Some recommended organizations include Maui United Way, Hawaii Community Foundation, and the American Red Cross.

3/ Recovery is long-term. It will take YEARS for the people of Lahaina and Maui in general to recover from this. As a means of comparison, 18 years after Hurricane Katrina there are still parts of Louisiana being re-built.

4/ Be careful of scams. While it’s super tempting to donate to a GoFundMe seemingly for a family who may have lost everything in the fires, these GoFundMes are very easy to fake and (sadly) there has been a history of scammers taking advantage of tragedies to scam people out of money with fake GoFundMe profiles.

And most importantly – if you have the power to file a lawsuit, then DO IT! There is mounting evidence that this tragedy COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED if Hawaiian Electric just turned off the power so that the first spark didn’t happen.

I can’t even.