Lahaina, Hawaii, resident Jordan Saribay can’t shake the image of his beloved hometown engulfed in flame from his head. But he’s fortunate he and his family escaped the inferno alive, having merely lost items that can be replaced — including his home.
As Saribay evacuated Tuesday evening due to wildfires raging across the island of Maui, he saw his own home and the home of his grandmother engulfed in fire. A wall of flame “as tall as the buildings” and debris turn into dangerous projectiles surrounded him at every turn.
“Everything is gone, every single one of our family homes,” Saribay said. “The entire Lahaina Town and the entire subdivision of Lahaina – gone.”
Wind-whipped wildfires scorched the main heart of the Hawaiian island of Maui, reducing homes and businesses in historic Lahaina Town to ashes and forcing people to jump into the ocean to escape the flames and smoky conditions. At least six people have died in the wildfires and several others were injured.
And the flames grew much faster than anyone could have imagined. In a few hours, the wind-driven blaze tore through popular Front Street and decimated a town center that traced its roots to the 1700s and was on the National Register of Historic Places.
Getting out of the danger zone made for a surreal journey of trying to find an unclogged escape route amid blistering heat.
“While driving through the neighborhood, it looked like a war zone,” Saribay said. “Houses throughout that neighborhood were already on fire. I’m driving through the thickest black smoke, and I don’t know what’s on the other side or what’s in front of me.”
When he made it out, Saribay felt a pang of emotion seeing Lahaina in his rear-view mirror, wondering what would be left to go back to. “Just praying that a miracle happens,’ he said.
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‘This fire — it just hit so fast’
Heidi Denecke, owner of the Maui Animal Farm, spent Tuesday night awake in her truck at her farm in Lahaina watching the fires with friends before being evacuated early Wednesday.
“It was very, very frightening. We all sat together and watched [the fire] because we were concerned about the animals,” Denecke said. “You can’t sleep during those times.”
Denecke and her neighbors spent Tuesday evening attaching phone number’s on their horses’ backs in case they had to be let go due to the fire. Once she was evacuated, Denecke drove six cages of bunnies and guinea pigs to the Hawaii Animal Foundation.
“I was standing at the top of my driveway and [the fire] was right below us and it was so frightening,” Denecke said. “This fire — it just hit so fast, and it devastated a lot of people. We didn’t really get a chance to get things set up because it came on so fast.”
The animal farm has survived the fire, but the roofing was torn up, Denecke said. But she doesn’t know the extent of the damage because she has not been allowed back to her farm.
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Residents got out ‘in the nick of time’
Lahaina resident Keʻeaumoku Kapu was tying down loose objects in the wind at the cultural center he runs in Lahaina when his wife showed up Tuesday afternoon and told him they needed to evacuate.
“Right at that time, things got crazy, the wind started picking up,” said Kapu, who added that they got out “in the nick of time,” said Kapu, according to The Associated Press
Two blocks away they saw fire and billowing smoke. Kapu, his wife and a friend jumped into his pickup truck. “By the time we turned around, our building was on fire,” he said. “It was that quick.”
Contributing: Minnah Arshad, USA TODAY; The Associated Press