Our thoughts are with the people of Hawaii whose lives are changed forever by the tragic wildfires on Maui.
Thousands of residents are looking for missing loved ones, having lost their homes and everything they held dear. Early reports indicate the climate-driven fires destroyed as many as 2,200 structures, most of which were homes.
Since the fires began, the American Red Cross has been providing shelter, food and comfort for those in need. Many went through a terrifying journey to reach our shelters and here are some of their stories:
THINGS YOU CAN’T REPLACE Elaine Goode is at the Red Cross shelter at the War Memorial Gymnasium in Wailuku on Maui. Goode lost everything when a wildfire destroyed her home in Lahaina. Among the irreplaceable items she lost in the fire were the ashes of her recently deceased husband.
“There are things you can't ever replace,” Goode said as tears filled her eyes. “I don't even have a picture of him. I don't have his picture. I had a picture of us when we first got together 32 years ago. And I don't have anything. I don't have his urn.”
GRAB YOUR STUFF Edwin Heilscher finds it hard to share how his family and neighbor escaped the deadly wildfire that destroyed Lahaina. Heilscher didn’t think much about the smoke he smelled the morning of the fire. But after the wind picked up later in the day and he started seeing ash and soot blow in through the window of his apartment on Front Street, he knew something was wrong.
“I walked into the kitchen, we have a kitchen window right above the sink, and it's just a blast of really hot air,” Heilscher said. “I'm looking out, it's a lot of smoke, and there are embers flying into the parking lot. So, I open up the back door, and I say, ‘Grab your stuff!’”
Driving through Lahaina to the highway, buildings around them were catching fire. “As we made our right turn to go out to the highway, we noticed the building on the corner, a small apartment complex; we noticed that already on fire,” Heilscher said.
After several days and nights of trying to find a more stable sheltering situation, Heilscher brought his family and neighbor to the Red Cross Shelter at the War Memorial Gymnasium in Wailuku. They’ve been there since August 10. And while he’s leaving the shelter to help his son return to school at the University of Hawaii, he said he had a positive overall experience at the shelter.
“Beyond expectations,” Heilscher said. “Even if I had expectations, it’s way beyond expectations. [The Red Cross staffers are] compassionate, generous, [they] don’t ignore anybody. Everybody is an equal.”
COULD FEEL THE HEAT Arthur Valencia, his wife, Tara, and their three children, Maele, Gabriel and Mia, are staying at the Red Cross shelter at the War Memorial Gymnasium in Wailuku on Maui. The Valencias lived in Lahaina and loaded up their belongings, their dog, Coco, and their parakeet, Snowflake, when ash and soot from the wildfires began to cover everything around them.
“I could feel the fire,” Mrs. Valencia recalled. “I could feel the heat from it. So, I went and got my bag, my Bible, the water, the dog and then we got in the car. It was so hard to get in the car. The wind was blowing so hard. It was like 80 miles per hour. … It was like we were in a tornado. It was smokey and scary.”
As they drove through Lahaina, black smoke filled the air as fires engulfed Front Street. “I said, just keep going. Let's see if we can get through it,” she remembers. “I was so scared. I was like, ‘Babe, if the fire comes, we're jumping out. We're not staying in this car and dying.’” Eventually, they made it out with a line of cars following them. After living out of their car for a few days, the family came to a Red Cross shelter.
EVERY SINGLE THING WAS ON FIRE Chris Phillips fled the deadly flames that swept through Lahaina, Maui, finally taking refuge in a Red Cross shelter set up at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu on the island of Oahu.
Phillips and his friends moved from an apartment on Front Street in Lahaina further out of town to escape the smoke and flames. At night, with the power out in the area, he said the sky was glowing red, so he and his friends went to get a better look at Lahaina from the outskirts of the city.
“We thought, maybe a few buildings are on fire, maybe a few more buildings are on fire,” Phillips said. “But when we got to that lookout point, every single piece of lawn, every house, every tree, every single thing, all the way to the ocean and all the way down was on fire.”
“We have this place that's been keeping a roof over everybody's head so far,” Phillips reported. “[We’re] being fed and [we have] showers and clothes, everything that you can really ask for right now in a time like this. I'm already just trying to figure out something for myself now. You know what I mean? [The shelter is] giving me time to kind of focus on other things that I could be doing right now, rather than just on the streets.”
YOU CAN HELP People in Hawaii need your help and support. Every single donation will make a difference in someone’s life. Powered by local volunteers and staff, the Red Cross has the ability to use your financial donation to reach more people in need, and reach them more quickly.
You can help people affected by disasters like fires and countless other crises by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED-CROSS (800-733-2767), or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
For those interested in helping people specifically affected by the Hawaii wildfires, you can still select Hawaii Wildfires on redcross.org, or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (800-733-2767), or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.