Maui Fire Lawyers – How Tourists Escaped A Fiery West Maui After The Blaze

The gate area at Kahului Airport was jam-packed in the days after the Lahaina fire as many tourists and visitors lined up for available flights back to other islands and the mainland. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Even as the fires in Lahaina were still burning, even before top state officials knew the magnitude of the disaster, a handful of tourism managers on Maui moved quickly to orchestrate an airlift of some 12,000 visitors off the island and out of harm’s way.

Between the night of Aug. 8, when the fires struck Lahaina, and continuing through the next week, hotel industry executives, tourism officials and tour bus operators organized and operated the exodus.

The prompt and purposeful airlift of tourists removed them from further risk and got them out of the way of rescue workers who descended on the island from all over the United States. It also freed up hundreds of rooms for local residents who had been displaced and were confronting the magnitude of their losses.

In West Maui, a major mecca for tourism, only one tourist is believed to have died in the fire.

This story of what happened to all the tourists unfolded in the background of the cataclysmic wildfire that destroyed much of Lahaina and took the lives of at least 99 people.

The picture is just emerging and is still unclear because many officials on Maui have declined to answer specific questions about what happened during the fires and in their aftermath. County officials have remained mum about what transpired in the emergency operations center and what roles that may have played in the visitor rescue. Public relations officials at the major hotel chains present on the island declined to make their employees available for interviews for this story.

But a handful of people are getting accolades for what they did, including Lisa Paulson, executive director of the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association, and Roni Gonsalves, Maui station manager for Polynesian Adventure Tours. Both are longtime Maui residents who stepped forward during the crisis.

“Lisa Paulson is a saint; she is an incredible person,” said hotel industry veteran Jimmy Tokioka, director of the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, who has been involved in the disaster recovery effort from the first day.

“Roni Gonsalves is a hero for sure,” said Sherry Duong, executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau.

Across the world, the first news accounts of the Lahaina disaster, reported in newspapers, on television screens and via social media, captured the furious scramble of tourists off the island.

Urged by top Hawaii officials to evacuate as quickly as possible, amid a multi-day power failure and with food supplies running low in the Kaanapali coast resort district, many visitors had found themselves marooned. With wildfires still raging, Maui officials had blocked the Honoapilani Highway, the vital artery that serves as the major conduit between the hotels and the other, safer side of the island, making it difficult to get out.

Stranded motorists, including tourists and Lahaina residents, described navigating the only alternative exit — a narrow and treacherous one-way road across the northern end of the peninsula, past Kapalua to Kahului, where the airport is located. The Maui Guidebook calls this trek “steep, narrow, cliff-edge driving” and recommends against it for those prone to nervousness.

For hapless vacationers without cars, many of them confused about where they were on the island, there was no easy path to safety.

That meant that many thousands of tourists staying in hotels or short-term rentals had no way to get to the airport and off the island. Several thousands more, who had been traveling around the island when the fires erupted, were being housed in disaster shelters along with traumatized fire survivors who had lost their homes and needed extensive services.

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Maui Fire Lawyers – Removing Hawaii’s Fire-Prone Vegetation Is a Tall Challenge

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

John Valderama sat along a new firebreak Friday across from his mother’s home on Koahi Street in Varona Village. A contractor working for the state recently bulldozed the area to reduce the wildfire risk.

John Valderama has long worried about about wildfire threatening a small Ewa Villages community, and a few weeks ago a contractor working for the state bulldozed a firebreak on city land next to a narrow street and his mother’s home in Varona Village.

The work, which created an 80-foot-wide strip of bare dirt mixed with grass nubs where waist-high dry grass previously stood, provides valuable protection but only represents a tiny fraction of recommended wildfire risk reduction in Hawaii, where so much of the state’s land- scape is a tinderbox.

According to a 2018-19 assessment by the Hawai‘i Wildfire Management Organization, about 350 miles of landscape alteration statewide was needed to reduce high wildfire risk — a distance encircling Oahu about 2-1/2 times.

Creating firebreaks by removing fire-prone vegetation is one part of the recommendation, along with trimming down vegetation to create “fuel breaks” and replacing vegetation with crops or other plants that aren’t high fire risks.

The Aug. 8 wildfire disaster in Lahaina, which killed at least 99 people and destroyed most of the Maui town, has made many more people aware of long-existing wildfire risk in Hawaii. But significantly reducing this risk remains a huge challenge.

Impediments include a scarcity of funding, a need for long-term management, and in many cases cooperation between different landowners and other stakeholders.

“It takes years to plan, apply for funding and carry those kinds of projects out,” Elizabeth Pickett, HWMO’s co-executive director, said in an email, “so it is a long game absent of local or steady funding sources.”

HWMO extols the value of prevention as vastly outweighing cost, which can be hard for landowners to recognize.

“No one wants to do it because it costs money and it commits you to an active management plan,” said University of Hawaii at Manoa wildfire expert Clay Trauernicht. “Public safety costs money. That’s just what it
comes down to.”

HWMO has long promoted best practices for wildfire mitigation, has mapped out high-risk areas across the state, and can help interested landowners and others apply for mitigation work grants.

One recipient of such a grant in recent years was a nonprofit established by a Kauai Fire Department captain with concerns about where he lives being harmed by wildfire.

Jeremie Makepa established ‘Aina Alliance to reduce risk on about 400 acres of previously unmanaged land owned by the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands next to the Anahola homestead subdivision where he lives.

Damage from the Lahaina fire is estimated at $5.6 billion.

From April 2021 to February 2022, the nonprofit was able to attract help from others that included DHHL, community volunteers, the Kauai County Department of Public Works and the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife to cut 10 miles of firebreak roads into the area where frequent brush fires had occurred.

Makepa, who described the effort during a Pacific Fire Exchange webinar in August, said it was a high cost endeavor in part because a lot of abandoned cars and other trash had to be hauled away for proper disposal.

An initial three miles of firebreak roads took six weeks to create using heavy equipment and would have cost $60,000 without donated work, according to DHHL.

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Maui Fire Lawyers – After Maui Fire, Some Hawaiians Are out of Aloha for Tourists

Community members hold hands in a prayer circle at a “Lahaina Strong” gathering in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)

Paele Kiakona is not ready to go back to work. Still reeling after August wildfires ravaged his hometown of Lahaina, he doesn’t want to serve tourists, pouring brut Champagne or topping their mai tais with honey-liliko’i foam.

“I’ve seen people dead on the street,” Kiakona said. “My grandma’s house is gone. My whole town died.”

The 28-year-old Hawaii native who worked as a bartender at a farm-to-table restaurant north of Lahaina is wary of fielding questions, including what he says is now the ultimate dreaded icebreaker: “Did you lose your house in the fire?”

In this moment, he said, visitors aren’t the ones who need his care.

“Our aloha is reserved for our family right now,” Kiakona said. “It’s not just endless aloha.”

Hawaii is famous for its “aloha spirit,” a concept rooted in Native Hawaiian culture that long ago was commodified into the guiding philosophy for resorts and other businesses catering to tourists. More than a chill tropical greeting — an exotic salutation used in place of hello and goodbye — aloha is defined by state law as “mutual regard and affection” and extending “warmth in caring with no obligation in return.”

It’s a spirit that’s been in abundance among locals as people helped each other after the fire. But as tourists return to West Maui, edging closer to the charred ashes of a disaster in their search for paradise, some Hawaiians are reassessing what “aloha” means to them, and how much of it, exactly, they want to give to strangers when so many in their community have lost homes and loved ones.

They’re not withdrawing aloha, they say, just redefining and redistributing it.

“Aloha has commercially been sold as mai tais and a good time, and that the arms will be welcome and ready for you,” said Kaliko Kaauamo, 37, a taro farmer and curriculum writer for the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. “Aloha, it’s not always happy and sunshine and rainbows … sometimes having aloha is screaming and crying and being there to hold people in their grief.”

Ninety-eight people died from the fire that raged through the historic town of Lahaina on Aug. 8, destroying or damaging more than 2,200 structures. This month, the state reopened West Maui, even though many blue-collar residents say it is too soon to greet visitors with warm smiles, alohas and fresh flower leis.

Hawaiian hospitality is a core part of Maui’s economy. With nearly 40% of the island’s gross domestic product linked to tourism, Gov. Josh Green has argued that thousands of jobs and the region’s economy would be jeopardized if West Maui resorts remained shuttered to visitors. But a significant number of workers say they should not be expected to welcome tourists at the hotels and condos north of Lahaina until they have schools and stable housing.

More than 6,800 Lahaina residents are sheltering in hotel rooms or rental condos with no firm reassurance of how long they will be able to stay.

“We made our plea. You decided not to listen,” Kiakona said. “The blood is on your hands.”

As one West Maui resident wrote on a sign to protest the reopening: “FRESH OUT OF ALOHA.”

Tension has long existed between Hawaii locals and visitors.

In 1778, British explorer Capt. James Cook was welcomed when he anchored off the Hawaiian islands by locals eager to trade cuttlefish, breadfruit and pigs for nails and iron tools. But he and his sailors eventually overstayed their welcome, depleting supplies and spreading venereal diseases. Cook was eventually stabbed to death.

In the early 1800s, Christian missionaries arrived in Hawaii, encouraged by Native refugees who had fled after the brutal wars of King Kamehameha’s conquest and urged Westerners to evangelize the islands.

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Maui Fire Lawyers – Fire Victims’ Fund in the Works As Housing Challenges Persist

CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

Gov. Josh Green spoke at a news conference Wednesday on Maui about recovery efforts following the Aug. 8 wildfires. Pictured below are the burned-out remnants of a Lahaina affordable housing project.

Gov. Josh Green plans to announce details of a new “recovery and humanitarian fund” for families that lost loved ones or were injured in the Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfire.

“Expect significant announcements from me in early November about funds for families who have lost a loved one or for individuals who were hurt in the fire physically,” Green said at a wide-ranging news conference Wednesday on Maui, joined by Maui Mayor Richard Bissen and officials from the American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We are putting together a coalition to get them resources, hopefully in a much more expedited way, so that they don’t have to wait for a long period of litigation,” Green said. “We know that there are going to need to be settlements, there have been tragedies. We want to be compassionate. So we will look at this as a recovery and humanitarian fund for those who suffered the greatest.”

Green plans to meet with President Joe Biden at the White House next week, along with meetings with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Hawaii’s congressional delegation.

Officials on Wednesday also talked about ongoing efforts and challenges finding more permanent housing, kitchens, parking and laundry facilities for the 6,879 fire evacuees remaining in Maui hotels and “hundreds in Airbnbs” on an island that already needed more housing before the fires, Green said.

“We’re making a lot of progress, but it is going to be a very long process,” Green said Gail McGovern, CEO and president of the American Red Cross, continued to reassure evacuees in hotels mostly in Kaanapali that they can remain indefinitely until they’re relocated to more comfortable accommodations.

“We are not asking anyone to leave until we find a permanent housing solution,” McGovern said. “So people are staying in those hotels. We’re not kicking people out. … We’re the Red Cross. We don’t do things like that.”

The Red Cross already has hired workers from Maui to help evacuees.

“They know the community, they know the streets, they have cultural sensitivity,” McGovern said.

FEMA has offered rental subsidies of 175% of fair market rate value to help evacuees relocate because “we know it’s a difficult rental market here,” said Bob Fenton, FEMA’s regional administrator.

FEMA already has provided rental assistance to nearly 3,300 people and extensions of an additional six months are available, he said. Discussions are underway to offer 18-month extensions, he said.

“We want to help individuals as much as possible. … We’d like to see you spend the next two Christmases in the same place,” Fenton said.

Bissen acknowledged “anxiety, the uncertainty” over housing and continued to implore “family, friends, co-workers” on Maui and across the state to take in evacuees, which makes them eligible for up to $1,500 a month, retroactive to Aug. 8.

It even applies to people on other islands who take in evacuees who find work outside of Maui.

Bissen also asked Maui landlords to convert shortterm rentals to longer-term housing.

Short-term rentals are taxed at a higher rate, Bissen said.

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Maui Fire Lawyers – Lahaina’s Low-Income Housing Hit Hard by Fire

CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@ STARADVERTISER.COM

The 89-unit Kaiaulu o Kupuohi on Kupuohi Street in Lahaina opened late last year to offer affordable rentals. Now all that remains are three sections of the burned mid-rise.

A state agency is exploring ways to expedite replacement of Maui low-income rental housing to offset losses from the deadly Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfire.

About 550 homes serving predominantly low-income households were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable by the fire, representing 16% of the estimated 3,500 homes lost or damaged in Lahaina, according to the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp.

The agency, which helps private developers produce low-income housing using state and federal financing, is considering several strategies to replenish inventory serving those who can least afford to live on Maui, where housing costs are among the highest in the state.

Dean Minakami, HHFDC’s interim executive director, told the agency’s board at a recent meeting that a few potential strategies he described as “low-hanging fruit” include dedicating a specific amount of financing to low-income projects on Maui and lending Maui County money to replace damaged infrastructure.

“These are things that are entirely within our control,” he said during the Sept. 14 meeting.

Minakami also said the agency is discussing how it might help developers accelerate several previously planned low-income housing projects on Maui, including two in Kihei, one in Kahului and one that was under construction in Lahaina but suffered only wind and smoke damage.

Other possible strategies being considered by HHFDC involve obtaining more federal financing for low-income housing development on Maui, which would require congressional approval.

Such approval is being sought via requests to Hawaii’s congressional delegation through Gov. Josh Green, according to Minakami, who said other states have been successful in obtaining such financing increases approved by Congress after losses from natural disasters.

“There is precedent for these actions,” he told the agency’s board.

All the strategies being considered by HHFDC aim to produce long-term affordable housing largely for low-income households, including seniors, that would replace what amounted to one out of six homes destroyed or damaged by the fire.

This inventory served tenants who in some cases earned no more than $24,330 a year for a single person or $34,740 for a family of four, which equates to 30% of the median annual income in Maui County. Monthly rent for some of these units could be less than $1,000 for a four-bedroom apartment and under $600 for a studio.

The 547 predominately low-income rentals affected were at 12 properties in Lahaina, according to HHFDC.

The largest property on the list was Front Street Apartments with 142 units. According to the agency, the private owner of the project on state land intends to rebuild pending an insurance claim.

The Hawaii Public Housing Authority had two properties affected by the fire: Piilani Homes with 42 units and David Malo Circle with 18 apartments.

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Maui Fire Lawyers – After 7 Weeks in Burn Unit, Another Lahaina Victim Dies

NEW YORK TIMES / AUG. 10

Laurie Allen had to run through a wall of flames to escape the Aug. 8 wildfire on Maui. Doctors went to extraordinary lengths to try to save her but on Friday, seven weeks after the disaster, Allen became the 98th death in the deadliest U.S. wildfire of the past century. Above, the Best Western Pioneer Inn was destroyed by wildfires in Lahaina.

As thousands of people rushed to flee the raging wildfire that swept through Lahaina, a flaming branch crashed to the roadway ahead of Laurie Allen’s car as she tried to escape. With the fire closing in, she knew that her only hope was to get out and run — through the inferno.

One hand held her important documents; the other clasped the hand of her landlady. They sprinted through the flames — the papers incinerating, their grasp faltering in the searing heat. Allen eventually emerged, running into a firefighter who enveloped her to extinguish the fire.

That night, as the blaze continued raging through Lahaina, Allen was raced to the Straub Medical Center burn center in Honolulu, part of a desperate effort to save her life. But after a series of surgeries and meticulous skin grafts, after weeks of encouragement and prayers and raw hope, the multiple infections that set in could no longer be kept at bay on a body that had been so extensively burned.

On Friday, seven weeks after the Aug. 8 fire, Allen became the 98th death in a disaster that was already the deadliest U.S. wildfire of the past century.

“There are no words to express how deeply I will miss her,” her husband, Perry Allen, said in a text message Saturday sharing news of her death.

On the afternoon of the fire, Perry Allen had been working at a resort north of the burn area. He was able to speak by phone with his wife and make a plan as she prepared to flee. But for hours afterward, he had no idea what had happened to her. Cellphone service was faltering, and Laurie Allen did not show up at the meeting place they had agreed to. With the fire still burning, police were blocking roads into town, prohibiting anyone from driving in to search.

Then a voice message pinged on his phone: Doctors at Maui Memorial Medical Center in Wailuku had a woman with severe burns, but they did not know who she was. The woman, who was being flown to the Straub burn unit, had only been able to mutter Perry Allen’s name and his phone number. Her fingernails and toenails were painted purple, they said. He knew it was his wife.

When he managed to reach Honolulu the following day, Allen said, his wife had a tube in her throat but was able to communicate with an alphabet board, pointing to letters to spell out words. As soon as he arrived, he said, she spelled out the names of their landlady, Conchita, and her son, Danilo.

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Maui Fire Lawyers – Developer Contributed to Lahaina Disaster, Lawsuit Claims

A general view shows the aftermath of a wildfire in Lahaina, Hawaii, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)COPYRIGHT 2023 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The latest lawsuit against Hawaiian Electric for its role in the start of the Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfire also targets a prominent West Maui developer and landowner for alleged actions contributing to the dry and dangerous conditions that allowed the wind-driven blaze to blow up.

The suit, one of at least 30 lodged against Hawaiian Electric over the disaster, was filed Wednesday in Maui Circuit Court by Ke‘eaumoku Kapu and U‘ilani Kapu, a Lahaina couple who ran the Na ‘Aikane o Maui Cultural Center on Front Street before it burned down.

While the state, Maui County and landowner Kamehameha Schools are also named in the com plaint, this lawsuit is only the second filed against Peter Martin and his West Maui Land Co., and the first to name its water subsidiaries of Launiupoko Irrigation Co., Launiupoko Water Co. and Launiupoko Water Development LLC.

The lawsuit contends that Martin and his companies made worse the dry conditions that led to the Lahaina fires by diverting streams and over-pumping Lahaina groundwater for their West Maui real estate developments.

The genesis of the problem actually dates back to the 1800s when sugar and pineapple plantations developed water diversion systems to irrigate their crops. The diversions served the plantations well, but they altered natural ecosystems and in some cases forced Native Hawaiian families off their farmlands.

The Kapu’s attorney, Lance Collins, said that when the plantations closed at the end of the 20th century, Martin and his subsidiary companies bought the land claims and its control of the water diversion systems.

But instead of continuing to irrigate large swaths of agricultural land like the plantations did, Martin developed housing subdivisions and his companies diverted much of the water to those developments, leaving vast empty tracts of land that were largely neglected, Collins said.

According to the lawsuit, the West Maui Land Co. and its subsidiaries exacerbated drought conditions in West Maui by diverting water from streams and pumping of ground water. This increased the fire hazard and “led to the devastating loss of life and property on August 8, 2023,” the suit said.

The wind-driven blaze overwhelmed the heart of Lahaina town in the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century. At least 98 people have died as a result of the tragedy and more than 2,200 structures, most of them homes, were destroyed.

A Sept. 19 class-action lawsuit filed by Chardell Naki was the first court complaint to accuse Martin and West Maui Land of neglecting former sugar cane lands and allowing highly flammable grasses to move in, providing fuel for the inferno that ravaged Lahaina town.

The latest lawsuit, among other things, accuses the state and county of allowing West Maui Land Co. to place locked gates on public roads and thoroughfares in and around Lahaina.

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Maui Fire Lawyers – Congressional Inquiry To Focus on the Cause of the Deadly Lahaina Fire

STAR-ADVERTISER

Shelee Kimura: The president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Co. said the utility is cooperating fully with investigators to find the cause of the fire

Members of Congress today will attempt to get to the bottom of what led to the deadly Lahaina firestorm — including questions that to date have gone largely unanswered about the timeline of what happened Aug. 8, Hawaiian Electric Co.’s electrical grid, and wildfire mitigation measures.

Congress will question HECO’s top executive, the chair of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission and Hawaii’s chief energy officer today about the role the electrical grid played in the Lahaina fires that killed at least 97, left 7,500 homeless and caused $5.5 billion in damage.

The first hearing about the circumstances, “Investigating the Role of Electric Infrastructure in the Catastrophic Maui Fire,” will be held by the 52-member U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

No Hawaii lawmakers sit on the committee.

According to a memo to members from the committee’s majority Republican staff, lawmakers will ask about the “sequence of events” surrounding the Maui fires and what “utility infrastructure conditions that may have exacerbated the risk” of a catastrophic fire that is the deadliest in the country in a century.

Shelee Kimura, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric; Leodoloff Asuncion Jr., chair of the PUC; and Mark Glick, the state’s chief energy officer, will make opening statements before being questioned by the members. Members plan to question Kimura about HECO’s “actions and plans to address fire risks, maintain its equipment and secure the grid against intensifying threats such as wildfires,” and the status of efforts to harden and protect Maui’s grid against wildfires.

The committee also wants to know about HECO’s “prioritization of fire safety precautions among competing priorities for grid modernization and improvement.”

HECO through subsidiary Maui Electric Co. serves about 70,000 customers on the island.

In prepared remarks obtained by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Kimura, who took over the top job at the 132-year-old utility in January 2022, said of Aug. 8 “we saw human loss and devastation at a speed and on a scale that even two months later is difficult for our hearts and minds to process. I want to start by honoring those lost and those whose lives have been forever changed by this overwhelming and tragic event,” Kimura wrote.

“We all want to learn about what happened on August 8 so that it never happens again. On that day, a fire at 6:30 a.m., the ‘Morning Fire,’ appears to have been caused by power lines that fell in high winds. The Maui County Fire Department responded to this morning fire and reported that by 9 a.m. it was ‘100% contained.’ The fire department later determined it had been ‘extinguished’ and left the scene in the early afternoon,” wrote Kimura. “At about 3 p.m., a time when all of Hawaiian Electric’s power lines in West Maui had been de-energized for more than six hours, a second fire, the ‘Afternoon Fire,’ began in the same area. The cause of this Afternoon Fire that devastated Lahaina has not been determined.”

Kimura said the utility is working “tirelessly” to figure out what happened, and is cooperating fully with investigators from the state Department of the Attorney General and U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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Maui Fire Lawyers – Lahaina’s Filipino Community Mourns The Loss Of 9 Family Members

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.

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Maui Fire Lawyers – West Maui Tourism To Return in Phases

CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

People participated in a sign-waving rally Wednesday along Honoapiilani Highway at the entrance to the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali before the start of a Maui County Council committee meeting.

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen on Wednesday announced the staggered reopening of tourism in West Maui, starting Oct. 8 with the northernmost resort area of Kapalua.

Bissen said the more deliberate approach, developed with members of his Lahaina Advisory Team, will allow housing needs to be addressed for the nearly 8,000 residents displaced by the deadly Aug. 8 wildfire and now living in temporary quarters at hotels, short term rental units and other accommodations across the island.

For many of them it will also provide a return to work, he said, and a chance to get their children settled into the three remaining public schools in Lahaina once classes resume the week of Oct. 16. The campuses have been closed since the wind whipped blaze killed at least 97 people and destroyed more than 2,200 structures in the historic town, nearly 90% of them homes.

Bissen’s announcement came at the same time scores of Lahaina residents, one after the other, urged Maui County Council members during a standing room- only committee meeting in Kaanapali to put the brakes on tourism and seek a different path forward as the community rebuilds.

An estimated 700 people were present when the Council’s Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee convened at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa to gather testimony on Council Resolution 23-194, which calls for developing a comprehensive recovery and resiliency plan in response to Aug. 8 wildfires in Lahaina and Upcountry.

The nearly 150 people who signed up to speak to the panel in person offered impassioned, angry, emotional and anguished testimony often in the Hawaiian language — over the course of the meeting, which stretched into the evening hours.

n the face of estimated economic losses of $13 million a day from the sudden drop in tourism to West Maui and skyrocketing unemployment, Gov. Josh Green on Sept. 8 announced that West Maui would welcome visitors starting Oct. 8, without providing a frame- work.

According to the plan announced Wednesday by Bissen, the first phase of reopening covers the area from the Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua to Kahana Villa. Following an assessment of the initial phase, the area from Mahinahina to Maui Kaanapali Villas would be the next to reopen to visitors, followed by the stretch of Kaanapali where the majority of displaced residents are staying, from the Royal Lahaina Resort to the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa.

Testifiers throughout the day echoed similar sentiments and also called for a ban on short-term rentals to ensure housing is available for locals. Other themes included the need for better emergency planning and establishment of neighborhood evacuation routes; better management of the privately owned former plantation lands that provided fuel for the Aug. 8 wildfire; a demand for underground utility lines; scrutiny of private control of water resources; and expanded use of reclaimed wastewater to maintain greenways as firebreaks around neighborhoods and irrigate traditional agricultural crops.

Residents also called for a prohibition on land sales in the disaster area to “outsiders” and the need to offer support to families with generational ties to the region. Some urged county officials to find ways to expedite planning and permitting to shorten the rebuilding process.

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