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Former Hawaiian capital Lahaina, fully scorched. Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP

Maui Has Been Ravaged By Fire — Surfers Are Leading Recovery Efforts

“It was like a flamethrower going through the town.” – Kai Lenny

news // Aug 12, 2023
Words by August Howell
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Maui just endured the deadliest disaster in Hawaii’s state history. 

Starting on Tuesday, a series of wildfires torched three Maui towns this past week: Kula, Kihei and Lahaina, the latter of which was almost completely razed. Though the cause of the flames remains unclear, dry vegetation combined with howling winds from Hurricane Dora, hundreds of miles southwest of Maui, turned a spark into an inferno. 

It’s a horrific tragedy, and its scale is hard to comprehend. Our hearts go out to those impacted. Below, we’ve compiled information about the disaster and an incomplete list of ways you support first responders and victims. 

Though most of the flames are contained or extinguished, the town of Lahaina — the former Hawaiian capital — is still smoldering and resembles something you’d see in a war zone. Thousands of people have been displaced and are without electricity and a reliable source of food and water. As of Friday morning, at least 80 people had died from the fires, according to reports, but that figure is expected to climb as first responders wade through the devastation (Kai Lenny says it could be into the thousands). Recovery teams are using cadaver dogs to find missing people. More than 30,000 people have been evacuated from the island.

“On August 8, 2023, my family lost the life that we spent over the last 30 years building, disappearing in the wind-fueled flames,” Lahaina resident Paris Doan wrote on her GoFundMe. “I was born and raised in Lahaina right off of Front Street and my family had multiple businesses on Front Street for over 30 years, so this tragedy has stripped us from the only life we’ve ever known. We were forced to leave our belongings, evacuate our home, and watch our home and family business burn into the ground with the rest of Front Street town.”

The Lahaina fire alone damaged or destroyed more than 2,200 homes and businesses and covered 2,170 acres, according to reports. Many boats in the town’s harbor were also torched. The estimated cost of the damage is a whopping $5.52 billion, according to an assessment from the Pacific Disaster Center and FEMA on Saturday. Some people were forced to flee by swimming into the ocean. About 100 people sought refuge in the ocean. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued 17 people, including two children, between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

“People were trapped in their cars, there was nowhere to go,” Kai Lenny said on Barton Lynch’s pod. “There was really no escape once it happened. It was basically like a flamethrower through the town because the winds were so strong. One moment you’re standing there, the next it’s 1,000 degrees outside and there’s flames whipping out of there.”

What remains of the Lahaina harbor. Photo: Mason Jarvi/Reuters

Some residents, Kai included, have criticized the local and federal government for failing to warn them of the fires until it was too late, blocking access for people attempting to give aid or leave town, and even withholding relief funding. 

“There was no warning,” Lynn Robinson told USA Today. “There was absolutely none. Nobody came around. We didn’t see a fire truck or anybody.”

Multiple reports confirm the response from the Maui and greater Hawaiin community has been extraordinary. Kai said he’s been dropping off food, water and other supplies to Lahaina via jetski because authorities are still blocking the roads. Matt Meola and friends bought more than 1,000 gallons of gasoline (You can Venmo them there). Ian Walsh’s brothers, Shaun and DK, some of the savviest Jaws water patrol around, are helping contain the flames with the Maui Fire Department. 

Flattened. Photo: Jack Truesdale

One of the few surviving structures on Maui’s west side is the iconic banyan tree in Old Lahaina, which was given as a gift to the town in 1873. The tree, which is scorched but still standing, serves as a symbol of hope for the local people.

Below is a list of several organizations and driven people helping local victims. There’s no telling how long it will take Maui to recover from this, but if you’ve ever been fortunate enough to visit this beautiful part of the world, you can help get that recovery started.

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