Lahaina residents who were forced to evacuate their homes and found shelter at Maui High School in Kahului said their escape from fast-moving flames was harrowing.
Front Street resident Ingrid Lynch’s 2019 Honda Accord was destroyed in the fire earlier Tuesday morning, so she thought the worst of the disaster had passed. Lynchshe said she was asleep when roommate Miguel Martinez, 27, urgently woke her around 10:30 p.m. to say they had to leave the house.
“We grabbed a blanket and covered ourselves to get out,” she recalled while resting on the grass outside the American Red Cross shelter today. “We tried to go toward the banyan tree toward the beach but we couldn’t go that way, so we turned around and we saw a couple of homeless people who didn’t know where to go either.
“We went past our house, and our house was on fire,” Lynch said. “We kept going and tried to stop a couple of cars and nobody would stop. We didn’t know where we were going. There were flames everywhere and we didn’t know what direction to go.”
At just that time, Rich Kenny, 80, was headed out of Lahaina and spotted the pair at the corner of Front Street and Honoapiilani Highway at Puamana.
“I saw them and they looked desperate,” Kenny said.
The retiree had evacuated from his own house on Front Street around 7 p.m. and headed to a friend’s place a little farther south in Puamana to watch the fire burn across the highway from the deck on top of a neighbor’s carport until they were instructed to evacuate.
“The way the wind was blowing, I didn’t think it would come toward our neighborhood. But it was just out of control,” he said.
After picking up Lynch and Martinez, Kenny said they “made a mad dash toward Kihei.”
“The first quarter-mile there were flames on both sides of the highway and trees were down on the road,” he said.
Unable to book a hotel room, the three evacuees slept in Kenny’s vehicle Tuesday night at a park-and-ride lot at the entrance to Kihei. This morning they drove to the Kahului shelter, not sure of what comes next.
“We’ll just have to wait and see when we can get back in. If I can’t stay, there are friends who will take me in,” Kenny said.
For Lynch and Martinez, the future is more uncertain, as they both worked at Down the Hatch bar and restaurant at the Wharf Cinema Center Shops, which was destroyed in the blaze.
Also at the shelter today was Alan Barrios, who said he found himself “in the eye of the storm” as one of the last tenants to evacuate Front Street Apartments.
The 53-year-old taxi driver managed to flee before flames consumed the 142-unit affordable rental complex on Kenui Place. Fortunately, his son had gone to Kahului Airport to pick up his mother and sister, who were returning from medical appointments in Honolulu.
He said he grabbed some important documents, personal tools and three of his four cats, forced to leave one of them behind after the animal panicked and ran off.
“Your heart is coming out of your chest, that’s all I can tell you. You feel like you’re running out of oxygen,” said Barrios, still obviously dazed from his ordeal.
He spent the night in his car at the Ross Dress for Less parking lot in Lahaina before rendezvousing with family members at the Kahului shelter.
“I’m still trapped in the thought of yesterday, even now — like it’s happening right now,” he said. “I never seen myself homeless and now I am.”