The streets of Lahaina are desolate and haunting, with burnt-out vehicles abandoned as if time had stopped, some of them still in the middle of the road, pointing towards routes that were abruptly cut off. The remnants of houses, reduced to piles of ash, fill the driveways alongside smoldering smoke. The silence is occasionally broken by agitated myna birds, perched on palm trees that have been reduced to charred sticks, birds and cats lifeless on the streets beneath them.
Residents are slowly returning to their devastated town, sifting through the wreckage of their homes with tears in their eyes, searching for anything salvageable. Shelly and Avi Ronen, in a neighborhood on the burned hillside above town, desperately searched for a safe containing $50,000 of their savings that they had left behind when they fled the fire. They felt lucky to have escaped with their lives, unlike a man up the hill who perished, and children who ventured outdoors and were now missing.
Amid the rubble, Avi Ronen managed to find the safe, severely charred but still intact. However, upon opening it, all they found was a pile of ash. The fire that tore through Lahaina at an astonishing speed claimed the lives of at least 59 people, rendering much of the town cut off from the rest of the island of Maui due to downed power lines and police checkpoints. Lahaina, a town rich in Hawaiian history and culture, has now become a post-apocalyptic scene, with its old-world charm and treasures destroyed.
The fire spread rapidly, fueled by hurricane-force winds, and raced downhill through the town, unstoppable until it reached the ocean. At the shoreline, where the fire could no longer advance, properties displayed remnants of what was once a home—a singed mailbox, a charred gate, a water heater poking through debris. People who managed to escape the fire recounted their harrowing experience, some with only minutes to flee, running as fast as they could or jumping into cars as embers burned their necks.
An elderly man named Anthony Garcia found himself amidst the chaos. He had been dining in a local restaurant when smoke suddenly engulfed the town. He rushed to his apartment to gather medication but quickly realized he was running out of time. Seeking refuge on a nearby baseball field, he lay face down in the dirt for what seemed like hours, enduring the scorching heat and falling embers. Miraculously, he survived, but with his apartment and belongings reduced to ashes, he now finds himself homeless, unsure of what to do next.
Although small groups of firefighters and work crews are trying to clear debris from the streets, it seems that little help has arrived. Local residents have taken matters into their own hands, delivering water bottles and gas. Some drive cautiously through the streets, offering food and assistance. Lanny Daise, 71, visits the remains of his wife’s grandfather’s house, taking photos of the devastation. Benzon and Bella Dres search for jewelry but find nothing salvageable, their rented house destroyed along with all their belongings.
Felina De La Cruz and her family arrive at a nearby house that once housed 17 people from four families. Lahaina was their chosen home when they immigrated from the Philippines two decades ago, a community where everyone looked out for one another. From their hillside, the picturesque view of the town, waterfront, and sunsets has been replaced by a mile of charred homes and a smoky haze. With no belongings and nowhere to go, the future is uncertain for De La Cruz and her family. When will Lahaina be habitable again?
“It’s so, so sad,” De La Cruz says. “I love this place. I love Lahaina. I want to live here. But I don’t know.” The road ahead for Lahaina and its residents remains uncertain, as they face the overwhelming task of rebuilding their lives amidst the ashes.