The official roll call of the dead from last week’s devastating wildfire in Lahaina grew by one Thursday as the Maui Police Department identified Lahaina resident Donna Gomes, 71, as the latest fatality.
The death toll from the disaster is well beyond 100, with an estimated 1,000 people still unaccounted for. MPD earlier released the names of five Lahaina residents whose families had been notified of their deaths: Melva Benjamin, 71; Virginia Dofa, 90; Alfredo Galinato, 79; Robert Dyckman, 74; and Buddy Jantoc, 79.
Although his name was not released by MPD, the Honolulu Department of the Medical Examiner on Thursday confirmed that Kirk Carter, 44, of Lahaina, died just before midnight Tuesday at Straub Medical Center’s Burn Unit in Honolulu. He was one of nine patients from Maui admitted to Straub since the Aug. 8 wildfire that destroyed the historic town along with at least 2,200 structures, most of them residences.
Maui County officials have warned that many more remains are expected to be recovered as the search area expands beyond the 45% of the 5-square-mile disaster zone already covered by the 40 cadaver-detecting dogs flown to Maui by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Carter was at his apartment when flames raced through Lahaina. Friends said he suffered burns over 75% of his body and was flown to Oahu in critical condition Aug. 9.
He worked for Atlantis Submarines Maui for 6-1/2 years as a guest service agent, the company said. Chris “Squirl” Gilbert said he first met Carter in 2005 and they eventually became close friends, visiting each other’s parents and attending music festivals together. Carter was even in Gilbert’s wedding party.
He shared that his friend was a huge fan of Chicago’s professional sports teams — the Blackhawks, Bulls and White Sox — and joked that Carter also loved making “barely listenable” music, playing keyboard, guitar and “a little bit of everything.”
“Kirk was an exceptionally fun-loving guy who just wanted every day to make people laugh — at him, with him — and he just brightened the energy of the room … ,” Gilbert said in a phone interview Thursday from Charleston, S.C.
“He genuinely enjoyed working in the tourist industry and sharing how awesome Hawaii is with people. He was a very passionate person and used to always yell ‘Step it up a notch!’ to people, meaning squeeze everything you can out of life.”
Friends became worried when they couldn’t contact him in the aftermath of the wildlife and eventually learned he had been hospitalized, Gilbert said. They remain haunted by not knowing what happened to Carter as the wind-whipped inferno overwhelmed Lahaina.
“I really wish we knew more information about what happened,” he said. “We know he was taken to the hospital from the Safeway parking lot but we don’t know how he got there or if anyone was with him.”
A verified GoFundMe page has been set up on Carter’s behalf.
Fire victim Alfredo Galinato, who’s name was released Wednesday, was waiting for his wife, Virginia, to get off work at the Safeway at Lahaina Cannery Mall on Aug. 8 when he decided to rush back to his Kopili Street home as the runaway wildfire approached, according to son Joshua Galinato, 30.
He said he happened to be on the other side of Maui when his 37-year-old brother James called with news of the quickly spreading blaze.
“He said it was coming down really fast and that there was not going to be phone service much longer,” Joshua Galinato recalled. “The last words I heard from my brother was that my dad went back to the house.”
The elder Galinato apparently grabbed a hose and was watering down his yard and roof and neighbors’ property when he perished.
“He tried his best to fight it, but you can’t mess with that,” Galinato said, adding it was in character for his father to charge into danger to save their family home of more than 30 years.
“Every time there’s a fire in Lahaina, he’s staying in Lahaina, holding down the fort.”
Like many others affected by the disaster, Galinato remains angry that some residents didn’t get the word to evacuate.
He added that his father was “a happy man, living his dream, staying home, going to Vegas sometimes,” after retiring several years ago from his job as “the bird man” taking care of parrots and other wildlife at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali.
“He was the man that I looked up to. He’s always been the man.”
Although other members of the Galinato ohana are safe, they lost their home and possessions. A verified GoFundMe page has been set up to help in their recovery.
The Honolulu Star- Advertiser previously reported that Gomes was caught in the firestorm while trying to get to her car parked across from her home on Lahainaluna Road. Granddaughter Tehani Kuhaulua said the retired MPD public safety aide at the Lahaina Police Station was found lying in the street, and that a cousin who lived with Gomes, Colleen Jones, remained unaccounted for.
Meanwhile, Hale Mahaolu reported Thursday that the family members of four tenants at its 35-unit Hale Mahaolu Eono on Lahainaluna Road have confirmed they remain missing, while another four have not responded to management’s phone messages.
Twenty-two other tenants of the independent-living apartment complex for low- and moderate-income residents age 62 and older have been located, including the resident manager. Two units were vacant at the time of the fire.
Hale Mahaolu said in a news release that staff is available when requested to assist tenants, many of whom have their own vehicles and come and go as they please.
Hale Mahaolu said that after smoke was spotted at 7:30 a.m. Aug. 8, staffers knocked on every door to alert tenants and encourage them to be ready to evacuate on their own. Maui County officials declared the Lahaina brush fire in Lahaina 100% contained at 9 a.m., but later as strong winds toppled trees and utility poles in Lahaina and the area became hot and smoky, the resident manager decided to evacuate with his wife around noon, encouraging four residents to leave with him, but they decided not to, the release said.
Hale Mahaolu said the county did not issue an evacuation notice for the neighborhood.
The FBI’s Honolulu Division is helping collect DNA samples from family members to assist MPD’s efforts to identify victims of the Lahaina wildfire.
Starting today, immediate family members — parents, siblings and children — of those still missing may go to the Hyatt Regency Kaanapali between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. to provide DNA samples.
Those on other islands or the mainland should call the FBI at 808-566-4300 or email at HN-COMMAND-POST@ic.fbi.gov and provide contact information so that further instructions can be provided.
“The FBI is collecting the DNA for the sole purpose of helping identify those reported missing and will provide the samples to the laboratory assisting the police department. No DNA will be retained by the FBI,” according to a news release.
Family members can provide DNA samples to help in identification of Lahaina wildfire victims at the Family Assistance Center, open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Kahului Community Center, 275 Uhu St. The FBI is assisting with obtaining DNA samples from out-of-state family members.