For those of us here on Maui, it feels like life can be separated into before the fires and after the fires.
On August 8, 2023, wildfires on Maui caused death and destruction in what is being called the worst natural disaster in state history and the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century.
Prior to the wildfires, the National Weather Service said to expect strong winds and high fire danger in Hawaii due to Hurricane Dora, a Category 4 hurricane passing hundreds of miles south of the islands.
However, we never in a million years thought this would happen.
Multiple fires blazed throughout Maui. Dry vegetation caused by a drought-filled year and gusts of up to 80 mph spurred the flames to spread frighteningly fast.
The Olinda fire burned an estimated 1,081 acres. The nearby Kula fire burned an estimated 202 acres. Nineteen homes in the upcountry area were destroyed with many more currently unlivable due to smoke damage.
The Pulehu-Kihei fire burned an estimated 3,200 acres of dry brush.
The historic town of Lahaina was hit the worst. Ninety-seven lives were claimed by the Lahaina fire – a drop from the previously reported death toll of 115 – and 31 people are still unaccounted for.
The Lahaina fire burned an estimated 2,170 acres and destroyed or damaged over 2,200 buildings, 86% of which were residential. The estimated $5.5 billion in damage is projected to take years to restore.
Thousands of survivors have been displaced. Many of them didn’t have time to save anything in their homes, so they left with only the clothes on their backs.
When clients first reached out to us following the fires to ask how we were doing, it was hard to put into words. Although a couple members of our team have either lost loved ones or homes in the fire, we are all feeling the loss.
You see, Maui is such a special place, and one of the things that makes it so special is that we are a community. It’s not just about yourself and your immediate family. Everyone here knows someone who has been affected.
In the first few days and weeks after the fires, it was amazing to witness the community rally together to support those in need. Now that the adrenaline has worn off and the mounting reality is sinking in, we are starting to grasp how much work there is left to do. Maui will need help long after the non-profits and reporters leave. Right now, we have to put away our pride and humbly ask for all the help we can get for the people of Maui.
What You Can Do to Help Maui
The best way to help those who have lost everything is to donate directly to them.
Most of the folks who have been affected have some of their immediate needs met, but they still need to find permanent housing and rebuild their lives from scratch. A lot of the people whose homes burned down barely escaped with their lives. They lost their pets, their worldly possessions, their places of work all in the blink of an eye. They are traumatized and grieving – several having lost loved ones too – and have bills piling up.
Giving to charity is great. However, it can take time for funds to reach those who need it, and we don’t know how much of the donations will actually be given to fire victims.
FEMA and the Red Cross are here, but we haven’t heard of many victims receiving money yet. Even if they have received assistance, the amount isn’t nearly enough to fulfill all of their needs, especially in a state known to be the most expensive when it comes to housing, with rates that are 2.7 times higher than the national average.
Survivors are having to resort to their own fundraising efforts, using Venmo and GoFundMe to try to avoid becoming homeless.
Instead of giving to a big organization, here are two ways you can give directly to people in need.
@lahaina_ohana_venmo on Instagram is a collection of many of the families who have been displaced by the fire in Lahaina. Each post on the account shows a picture of who you would be donating to with a little about them and their Venmo to send to. Venmo is free to use and ensures the recipient you are giving to will receive all the money you are giving within just a couple days.
If you would rather purchase from a wishlist instead of sending money, Adopt A Family MAUI on Facebook helps people create and post Amazon wishlists with exactly what they need.
Once you join the Adopt A Family MAUI group, you can either post and say you want to adopt a family or you can peruse the posted wishlists and purchase items from wishlists that have already been posted.
Since they are wishlists, items will disappear as they have been purchased, so you don’t have to worry about people receiving too much of the same thing.
If the wishlist has been set up correctly, once you get to the mailing section, the recipient’s mailing address should populate for you to select. If you do not see it as one of the options (if you only see addresses that you have send to before), all you have to do is comment on the Facebook post that you don’t see the shipping address as an option. One of the admins will help fix it and should let you know when it’s fixed.
With both Lahaina Ohana Venmo and Adopt A Family MAUI, all of people requesting help have been vetted by Lahaina natives to prevent scammers.
If you want to donate but are overwhelmed with all of the options, please reach out. We would be happy to send you a list of friends and loved ones we know personally.
Contrary to what you may have seen on the news, Maui is not closed. We need people to visit Maui. The reality is our island is still heavily dependent on tourism. It is an industry that contributes 80% of the county’s wealth and employs residents. Hundreds of small local businesses (including Engaged on Maui) rely on travelers visiting our beautiful island.
West Maui is in recovery, but the rest of the island is open. South Maui, upcountry, the north shore, and Hana are all welcoming visitors. We have fun activities to do, amazing sites to see, and delicious food to eat.
Right now, our tourism numbers are slashed in half. Airlines are cutting flights due to decreased demand. We experienced this during Covid, and it was scary. Many businesses and restaurants were forced to shut down.
This time, businesses who were not directly impacted by the fire but are still suffering due to the lack of visitors, are not receiving any government assistance. So far, our options are to possibly take out a loan or figure it out… so here we are appealing to whoever will read this.
Please consider Maui for your next vacation. We are NOT closed. We need you here.
Support local Maui businesses
If visiting Maui isn’t in the cards for you anytime soon, you can still support Maui businesses from afar.
Many Maui companies have online stores and will ship to you. Keep Maui businesses in mind whenever you are looking for gifts or a treat for yourself. Check out @mauismallbusiness on Instagram to get ideas.
If you are one of our clients, you can help support Engaged on Maui by going back through your gallery and ordering prints, wall art, or an album as a tangible keepsake to display for years to come.
Share the news about how to support Maui
We understand that not everyone can help financially, but sharing this post and talking about Maui within your social circles is super helpful.
It’s tempting to say, “well I don’t have a big social media reach,” but you certainly know people we don’t know. You have friends who live outside of Hawaii who may be able to help.
Many of us here are immersed in how our friends and family are suffering and what we can do to help. We will be in this for the long haul. Rebuilding Lahaina, helping those whose lives were destroyed by the fires – it will be a marathon, not a sprint.
We could really use you – yes, YOU! – to keep sharing about how to help Maui.
If you have specific questions about what is happening on Maui and how to help, our inbox is always open!
Mahalo nui loa