Lisa Francis, a bank employee in Lahaina, found herself trapped in a firestorm as she tried to drive home from work. It was Tuesday at 5 p.m., and she was stuck in traffic near the ocean. The firestorm, fueled by strong winds, was rapidly approaching her and others in similar situations. Looking ahead at the long line of abandoned cars on Front Street, Lisa knew that her only option was to head towards the water.
In the midst of this chaos, a young stranger in his 20s rallied Lisa and a small group of stranded women, urging them to climb over the knee-high sea wall and seek refuge on the strip of rocks along the water. They scrambled onto the slippery rocks as the fire swept through the cars and buildings above, enveloping them in thick smoke. The intense heat forced them closer to the water’s edge.
Facing the ocean, Lisa clung tightly to a large boulder, fearing that the crashing waves might wash her away. However, these waves provided relief from the relentless shower of burning embers. “The ocean really took care of us,” Lisa described during a phone interview. Despite this protection, she suffered small burns on her arms from the embers and her eyes stung from the smoke and salt water.
Hours passed, and the fire continued to ravage the town. Finally, the inferno began to dissipate. Lisa and the others cautiously climbed back up the rocks and sat against the sea wall. In the dark of the night, a faint moon illuminated the charred landscape, with Lahaina’s burning harbor coming into view.
Help did not arrive until 1 a.m. Ms. Francis and the other evacuees were packed into a truck that raced up Route 30. As they drove, Lisa looked out at the devastation surrounding her. “Everything – scorched,” she said. “I felt like I had entered a completely foreign place.”
Her neighborhood, located just off the highway, had been completely leveled by the fire. From a shelter at Maui Preparatory Academy, Lisa managed to catch a ride to a friend’s house where her family had taken refuge. There, she found her husband, John Francis, 66, sleeping inside a car. Overwhelmed with relief, Lisa approached the car window and told John that she was safe. He broke down in tears.
The fire had left behind destruction and desolation. Lisa’s harrowing experience serves as a testament to the power and unpredictability of natural disasters.