World Mourns After Lahaina Devastated By Fire
This is certainly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write and to be honest, I’m not sure about where to begin. At this point, the news has reached every part of the world. Our beloved Lahaina Town has been destroyed and now lost with our idyllic Maui beach town are hundreds of lives, thousands of homes and buildings, thousands of displaced residents as well as the artifacts of hundreds of years of rich cultural history.
The scale of loss is incomprehensible and I’m completely heartbroken for each and every person affected. Lahaina has been a major part of my life and this is my story.
Lahaina Was My Home
When I moved to Maui back in 2010, I decided on Lahaina as the place I wanted to be. Maybe it was the laid back atmosphere, the diving, or the natural beauty. It just seemed like a cool place to me and it certainly was and will be once again. We found a room for rent on Kapunakea Street up the hill from Mala Tavern and I had my first job at Boss Frog’s on Lahainaluna Rd. Life was beautiful and simple. I rode my bike to work. For lunches, I would walk to Foodland for a Poke Bowl which I would enjoy on a Front Street bench watching the waves come in.
In the evenings, we would walk or ride bikes down Front Street and go to places like Captain Jacks, Fleetwoods, and Longhis. Occasionally, on Friday nights, we would play tourist and enjoy the art gallery walks and the free wine of course. Our weekends were spent playing with our dog at Baby Beach or going on diving/snorkeling trips departing Lahaina Harbor on catamarans like Paragon. Not to mention the holidays, particularly Halloween when Front Street closed down and thousands converged for the best party of the year.
Lahaina is such a friendly, welcoming community. It has an incredibly strong sense of identity and unity, even though it is a mix of people with many different backgrounds. It's a very accepting place where people want to connect with others. I made so many great friends over the years and I'm so heartbroken for their loss right now.
A Vibrant, Lively, and Eclectic Beach Community
Walking around Lahaina was where you could really see the character of this fun and funky beach town. Some of the sights you would see were the fisherman carrying their fresh catch into restaurants like Kimo’s or Lahaina Fish Company, groups of Keiki (children) riding their bikes with surfboards attached cruising to surf at the Breakwall, and of course, the many tourists lining up along the section next to Cheeseburger in Paradise smiling ear to ear enjoying the evening’s sunset.
I think about the Parrot Guy, sorry I don't know his name, in front of the Pioneer Inn taking pictures of famiilies with his parrots. The portrait artist in front of Fleetwood's. Rafael's art studio where he painted wave after wave for his many fans. I have many fond memories of my parents coming to visit and my Dad's love of Ululani's shave ice.
Lahaina means 'land of the merciless sun' in Hawaiian and Lahaina usually has the best weather; sunshine, sunshine, and more sunshine with some gentle breezes. However, things like hurricanes, tsunamis, and fires have always been lingering threats.
Island Life Comes With Unique Challenges
Within my first year living in Lahaina, I got a small insight that paradise wasn’t always paradise. While living at Lahaina Residential on Front Street, we had a Tsunami warning one evening and I loaded my Jeep with as much as I could, but mainly my dog, dog food, water, and my friend from the mainland who was staying with me at the time. We evacuated Lahaina and camped up the hill in Launiupoko, which was fortunately spared from the tsunami threat that night as well as the recent fire. A very small tsunami wave did hit that evening crashing water onto Front Street, but lives and property were not affected. Much ado about nothing it seemed.
Over the years, there have been flooding events, power outages, Tsunami warnings, and smaller fires that were put out. Just because we live in paradise doesn’t mean we are immune to disasters here, but no one thought we were vulnerable to something like what happened in Lahaina on August 8th, 2023.
I moved from West Maui to Upcountry Maui a few years ago. We still go back all of the time. I am very active in selling a variety of West Maui properties from Lahaina to Kapalua and really enjoy the days I get to go show property on the West Side. I typically roll in one of my favorite West Side activities such as a hike on the Kapalua Coastal Trail, getting tacos from the Ono Tacos food truck, or just taking Front Street, instead of the highway, on my way home to just cruise the street and see the scene.
A Degree of Loss We Could Have Never Imagined
Even though we live about an hour away now, my wife and I love to go dive with friends at Mala Wharf and get brunch at Mala Tavern on the weekends. We had just recently celebrated our 1st anniversary at Lahaina Grill and were fortunate to have one of my old friends from my Lahaina days as our waiter which made the experience even more amazing. His story is one that hits me especially hard.
He and his wife were both in the service industry at two of Lahaina’s most recognizable restaurants. They saved everything they had for several years to make a down payment on a condo before the pandemic hit. After recovering from the pandemic they were able to save to do their remodel, which they were doing themselves with sweat equity, and now the tangible results of that work and sacrifice have been taken in this fire. They were easily recognizable around town with surfboards on their bikes heading to catch a sunset surf on any given evening. As much as was taken from them and many others like them, what has not been taken is their resilience and their spirit. You can read their story on their GoFundMe page.
Elderly Native Hawaiians Will be disproportionately Affected by the Lahaina Fire
Beyond all of the charms of Front Street that most are aware of, Lahaina is a broader community consisting of local native Hawaiian families. It’s this community that really defines Lahaina. They are the forebearers of the community and they are the threads of the fabric of Lahaina’s character. There were many Kupuna (elderly) who have had property in Lahaina in their family for generations.
Many multi-generational homes and families have suffered unimaginably. It’s important for everyone to keep the Native Hawaiian community at the forefront of the rebuilding efforts, to make sure we don’t lose more than we have to in our community. The Native Hawaiian community's needs will be the greatest for them to survive this and continue to be the fabric of the new Lahaina that will emerge.
So Many Iconic Locations Lost in the Lahaina Fire
While we first mourn the extremely tragic loss of life, we also mourn the loss of property for others who survived. So many iconic locations, along with the lifestyles they offered the many who enjoyed them, were erased in less than a day. The Banyan Tree, while still standing and receiving daily watering from a water truck, is severely damaged and may not survive. What a morale boost it would be for all of us if the Banyan Tree could survive as a symbol of hope.
Along with the Banyan Tree, Lahaina was home to places like the Baldwin Home, used by Rev. Dwight Baldwin and his family in the early 1800s when he served as a missionary and doctor in the community. As the ancient capital of the Royal Hawaiian Kingdom, Lahaina was also home to the Brick Palace, ordered to be built by King Kamehameha I to be a palace for his wife Queen Kaahumanu.
Brick not being the coolest of materials for a home, the Queen actually preferred to stay in a grass hut nearby. The haunting image of Wailoa Church ablaze is one of the most moving images to come out of the photographic record.
Pioneer Inn Also Destroyed
The Pioneer Inn, tragically lost to the fire, had stood the test of time next to the Banyan Tree. Originally built in 1901, it has been home to over a hundred years of guests reportedly including Frank Sinatra. The Lahaina Courthouse once stood as the palace for King Kamehameha III in the earliest days of Lahaina in the early 1800s. Countless other important historical and cultural locations were lost and damaged, we can only hope that the rebuilding of Lahaina will prioritize the significance of these places to the local Hawaiian community.
Lahaina Yacht Club and So Many More
The Lahaina Yacht Club, with their signature door sign “Go Lunas” in support of the local high school, the Wharf Cinema Center, the list is long and the more I go through it the more it stirs up forgotten memories of years spent enjoying their charms. While Lahaina will never be the same, having the highest levels of support in the state and Federal government will certainly be important in restoring Lahaina as best we can and ensuring she is stronger for future generations.
Fires Also Destroy Homes in Kula
While Lahaina has been the main story of this devastating week, the devastation also hit Upcountry Maui in Kula. Many lost homes in Kula. They also need our support and our thoughts and prayers. Many believed this was the main danger early that Tuesday morning. The fire came within a mile of my home in Pukalani and we were ready to evacuate but were fortunate to have not been in the line of fire.
What Was Not Lost in Lahaina
As one of the very first modern residential communities in Lahaina, Puamana has been a favorite community in Lahaina since the 1960s when many pilots in the TSA purchased units to have for their Maui layovers. Recently, I represented one of these pilots, now in his 90’s, in the sale of his oceanfront unit in building 176 who had owned the condo since 1969. Its new owners, a family from Canada who has been visiting Maui their entire lives, were lucky to see that their building was one of few in the complex that did not get destroyed. Sadly, the clubhouse and most of the northern part of the community was completely burned.
Built in 1974, Lahaina Shores has been a landmark condo hotel on Front Street for roughly half a century. It has been a favorite destination for many on their yearly trip to Lahaina and became home or a home away from home for its owners. As the helicopter videos of the fire began to come in, I was speaking with clients who recently purchased a condo there and we were cautiously optimistic as it appeared that it had been spared. At this time, that is still the determination, however, potential damages have not been inspected.
One of Maui’s newest residential communities, Kahoma Village, appeared to be headed toward complete destruction. While some homes did burn, reports indicate that the majority of the neighborhood was spared. I was horrified to see a video from a colleague showing the fire destroying a home next to him as they evacuated.
Fortunately, several other structures and buildings were not lost such as the Lahaina Cannery Mall, Gateway Mall, and a handful of other homes/buildings that are visible on the map. Out of the ashes and rubble of the most destructive force that Hawaii has ever seen, the spirit of Aloha has emerged fiercer than ever before. In the past few days, I’ve been brought to tears so many times, first by the tragic events and then by the overwhelming support from the community and world.
A Word About Being Pono (Respectful) During These Times
Word has gotten around Maui that several mainland real estate investors have already begun to try to contact victims of this tragedy with offers to buy their land. It makes me sick to think that anyone could see this as an opportunity for real estate speculation. Unfortunately, scammers and soulless opportunists inevitably attempt to prey on the victims of tragedies like these, if anyone hears or sees of this please report them.
If you want to invest in Lahaina, donate to any of the reputable charities and/or individual Go Fund Me accounts.
Aloha Conquers All
One of the most powerful experiences is to be a part of and witness the magnitude of the efforts of everyone to contribute to the victims. Even just going to Costco to buy the things needed at the shelters is an experience of Aloha, there are literally hundreds lined up every morning to buy supplies and get them to caravans delivering to the shelters, to the point that the shelters are overwhelmed with supplies at this point, just 5 days after the fire.
Everyone is leading with kindness and doing what they can with their resources and skills to help individually. Restaurants and Food Truck owners are making meals for the victims, mechanics are fixing cars and bringing gas containers, property managers are connecting owners and victims, construction companies donating trucks, pastors are holding services, and helpers are helping. The list goes on.
Shelters are having to turn away those who want to volunteer as there are so many but do not let this stop anyone from trying as the volunteer efforts will be needed well into the future. As many are aptly saying, this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. It’s emotional and inspiring to see so many folks going above and beyond to support the victims. As we remember Lahaina as a place, I think about how this special place is only possible because of the community that makes it so. We knew we had a strong community in Lahaina, Maui, and Hawaii, but this test has proven that it was even stronger than we thought.
Personal Experiences of Aloha During the Fire
From my personal experience, I’ve never felt so much love and Aloha from my own community and network. While we were extremely fortunate to not have personally had any impacts on our home or property from the fires, I’ve had a lifetime of friends, friends of friends, and clients reach out to me from all over the world to check in and make sure I’m ok and that has meant so much to me. I’ve even been fortunate to have been able to leverage my client network to help a Red Cross CEO who owns a condo in Lahaina stay at another client’s condo in Wailea while she is supporting the relief efforts.
We have been able to house displaced victims in our home and help them begin to restore their property, and it still all feels like it's not enough. We know that the long-term community needs will unfold themselves over the next months and we are in this for the long haul. While we are an island community, the members of the Maui community are everywhere in the world. Anyone who has been to Maui even once feels this connection as Lahaina Town is a top attraction. The millions of people who have visited Lahaina on cruise ships over the years have shown that Lahaina is still in their hearts. The fires have impacted virtually everyone who has ever been here and we are all connected through the love we share for Lahaina and Maui.
Making a Difference As Lahaina Begins to Heal
Going forward we’re going to need continued love and support at every level of giving, including the Federal government and FEMA, donations from billionaires like Jeff Bezos’ 100 million dollar fund, and just as important, are all of the 5-dollar, 25-dollar, 1,000-dollar + contributions to individual resident’s GoFundMe accounts that all make an impact on alleviating the suffering.
Just showing someone that you care and expressing compassion can help them under these extreme challenges of not only losing businesses and homes but also family members and pets. If you are visiting in the near future, take a moment to show that you care about the many locals you will encounter throughout your stay. A kind word of support can make someone's day. There are many great ways to contribute, if you’ve been looking for a way to help and aren’t sure what the best route is, the Maui Strong Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation is one of the best ways.
I want to thank you for reading my personal experiences of these tragic events. It means a lot to me that you care to have read to this point and I just wanted to express that. I also want to say thank you to all of our first responders, caregivers, front line, back line, and anyone actively involved in the crisis response. They are the ones who lead the way in serving the community through their individual sacrifices.
Lahaina will never be the same. Things are very bleak and dark right now for so many, but every day now, the future for Lahaina is getting brighter and we are seeing Aloha on a level never before witnessed. Please continue to support Maui in your own personal way, whether it's saying a prayer for us, making a charitable contribution, or even visiting to keep the rest of Maui businesses afloat.
I won’t dive too much into this controversial topic other than to say, Maui relies on tourism to survive. We can’t let this disaster create another economic disaster for the rest of the island. We certainly understand the sentiment behind the “Don’t Come Right Now” contingent as we also mourn the loss of life, but people are supporting us directly by continuing with their planned vacation to Kihei or Wailea or anywhere else on Maui, besides West Maui of course, as long as its being done respectfully.
Please recognize that every person you encounter on your trip has just experienced this tragedy and is suffering in some form. From the flight attendant on your flight who regularly stays over on Maui, to the barista at the coffee shop, the valet, and the clerk at Costco. They need your business, but they also need your patience and kindness right now and in the future, as they are all suffering and will continue to. Mayor Richard Bissen reiterated in a press conference on Saturday when he said "Maui is not closed, West Maui is closed" It’s actually what the rest of the island needs to continue to financially support West Maui.
As we all mourn in our own ways for Lahaina, everyone on Maui appreciates all of the many individuals and organizations who are looking to make a difference during our time of extreme need. And of course, if you are an individual in need or an individual who can contribute a home or condo for a displaced person, even temporarily, please reach out to me and I'll do everything I can to help.
Posted by Evan Harlow R(S) 82003 on