The memorial for Lahaina Fire victims has grown from a simple line of white crosses secured to the fence line to those same crosses now endowed with lei, photographs of loved ones and flags representing the victims country of origin. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023
Eight members of a single Filipino family have been confirmed dead and one remains missing since the Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfires – a loss that has devastated their loved ones as well as the town’s close-knit Filipino community.
One of the women lived in Lahaina for decades and brought many of her relatives to Hawaii from the Philippines. They worked in retail, food service, hospitality and other fields and were described by those who knew them as cheerful, kind people who loved their family.
The Maui Police Department on Tuesday identified six of the victims as Felimon Quijano, 61; Luz Bernabe, 64; Joel Villegas, 55; Adela Villegas, 53; Angelica Baclig, 31 and Junmark Quijano, 30. The other two family members Salvador Coloma, 77; and Glenda Yabes, 48; had been identified previously.
The ninth, Lydia Coloma, is still on the FBI’s official list of people who remain unaccounted for.
Lahaina’s Filipino population, which made up about 40% of the town before the wildfires killed at least 97 people and displaced thousands more, is intimately connected, community leaders say. Every loss, especially one of this magnitude, is difficult to bear.
“To know that so many in the same family have perished, I think it will affect the community quite hard,” said Eric Arquero, a pastor at Koinonia Pentecostal Church, which serves a majority Filipino congregation. “I know it’s going to add to the sorrow and the sadness and the mourning that’s going on here.”
Luz Bernabe was one of the first of her family members to arrive on the Valley Isle from Sinait, a city in the province of Ilocos Sur in the north of the Philippines, Arquero said.
He didn’t know exactly when she arrived, but by the time his family immigrated to Maui in 1987, she was already there.
“I just remember her being here since I was a child,” he said.
Bernabe worked at Nagasako General Store in Old Lahaina Center on Wainee Street, said Mila Lat, a friend who arrived on Maui from the Philippines in 1991. The store was destroyed in the fire, the friend said.
Bernabe then petitioned many of her family members to come to Hawaii, and they lived together in an old plantation house somewhere in the area of Lahainaluna Road, Lat said.
“She’s a very jolly person,” she said. “She always had something to tell you, and friendly. She knows a lot of people. She’s telling you this and that, this and that. So I just listened to her.”
Lydia Coloma worked at Foodland Lahaina, Lat said. Her husband, Salvador, worked at PWC Hawaii, a janitorial services company, according to his Facebook page.
Relatives either declined to be interviewed when reached by phone or did not return Facebook messages requesting comment. But a GoFundMe page organized by Oliva Coloma described Lydia and Salvador Coloma as her parents; Luz Bernabe, Felimon Quijano, Adela Villegas and Joel Villegas as aunts and uncles; and Glenda Yabes, Junmark Quijano and Angelica Quijano as cousins.
She also said that on Sept. 20, DNA for seven of the family members was still in the process of being sent from the Philippines to the FBI and Maui Police Department to help with identification.
Alana Pico, spokeswoman for the Maui Police Department, wrote in an email that she could not comment on specific cases, but said Dr. Jeremy Stuelpnagel, a pathologist with Maui County, has discussed the complexities of performing autopsies and positively identifying those who died in the fires. Stuelpnagel said during a press conference on Sept. 15 that many remains were extremely fragmented and some were commingled with others. That day, the official death toll dropped from 115 to 97.