WAILUKU >> The Maui Police Department on Wednesday added Lahaina resident Kirk Carter, who died Aug. 15 at Straub Medical Center’s Burn Unit in Honolulu, to its official list of fatalities from the Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfire.
Carter, 44, was one of nine patients from Maui admitted to Straub for burns suffered in the disaster that killed at least 97 people and caused an estimated $5.5 billion in damage. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Aug. 18 that the Honolulu Department of the Medical Examiner had confirmed his death and notified his family.
Friends said Carter was at his apartment when flames raced through Lahaina. He suffered burns over 75% of his body. Carter worked for Atlantis Submarines Maui as a guest service agent and was described by friends as “an exceptionally fun-loving guy who just wanted every day to make people laugh,” and a big fan of Chicago’s professional sports teams.
On Tuesday, MPD identified James Smith, 79, of Lahaina as another victim of the wildfire.
MPD so far has released the names of 76 of the 97 currently known fatalities, with four others identified but whose families had not yet been contacted.
The funeral for another of the wildfire victims, Virginia “Virgie” Dofa, 90, will take place Friday in Wailuku. She was one of at least five residents of Hale Mahaolu Eono, an independent living apartment complex on Lahainaluna Road, known to have died in the firestorm.
“She was so sweet with a big heart. She loved her family — her six children, 15 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren,” said daughter-in-law Barbie Dofa.
Virgie Dofa was raised in a plantation camp in Olowalu and lived on Oahu for many years, where she worked as a cook with Host Marriott at the Honolulu airport before returning to Maui.
“She loved cooking for people, making them happy and sharing her love of food. I think food and cooking was her love language,” said Barbie Dofa, 64, who lives at Napili Villas north of Lahaina with her husband, Charley, 65, and their daughter and her family.
Virgie Dofa used a walker to get around but her mind was sharp and she was in relatively good health, according to her daughter-in-law. She enjoyed bowling and visiting family, and loved browsing thrift stores to add to her collection of clocks, angels and other figurines.
The day of the Aug. 8 wildfire, Barbie Dofa and her husband returned from a mainland trip but were unable to get to their place in Napili due to road closures. “It was mass confusion,” she recalled, with little information available on the unfolding disaster.
They were stuck in traffic on the Lahaina Bypass highway for six hours until around 9:30 p.m. when police instructed motorists to turn back toward Central Maui. The Dofas drove to their other daughter’s house in Kahului, where they began seeing accounts on social media of the horrors in Lahaina.
Virgie Dofa had called her granddaughter in Kahului earlier in the day to report that a Hale Mahaolu staff member had come around to advise residents to bathe early because the power was out and they didn’t want them doing so later in the dark. She then called Barbie’s other daughter in Napili around 3:50 p.m., saying there was smoke everywhere and to call the Maui Fire Department.
The phone connection went dead before they could end the call.
In the chaotic days that followed, Dofa’s family visited or called evacuation shelters, churches, and hospitals on Maui and Oahu in their search for her, and submitted DNA samples at the Family Assistance Center in Kahului. They also heard from those who had visited the ruins of Hale Mahaolu Eono and reported seeing four bodies on the ground “burned beyond recognition.”
“At some point we had to realize that she didn’t make it and accept it, but we were still hoping she was somewhere,” Barbie Dofa said.
On Aug. 16, Dofa’s family was officially notified that Virgie was among the dead. From what her family could gather, she walked out of her unit toward the back entrance to get to a road and was forced to seek cover behind a retaining wall, where her charred remains were found.
“It’s like a roller coaster,” Dofa said of the family’s ordeal since the Aug. 8 fire, describing feelings of “anger, numbness.”
Dofa, who is the human resources director at the Napili Kai Beach Resort, said she sought counseling after suffering a panic attack and bouts of anxiety. She was prescribed anti-anxiety medication as needed but said she’s doing better now.
And she is thankful her large ohana got together in June at Launiupoko Beach Park to celebrate Virgie’s 90th birthday.
Barbie Dofa said she has been in contact with Hale Mahaolu officials with her concerns that residents were not given adequate notice of the growing fire threat and about better evacuation planning and assistance for residents like her mother with limited mobility.
The other Hale Mahaolu Eono residents identified by MPD as fire fatalities are Louise Abihai, 97, who was a member of Dofa’s extended family and a close friend of Virgie’s; June Anbe, 78; Buddy Jantoc, 79; Joe Schilling, 67; and Angelita Vasquez, 88. At least one other resident, Alfie Rawlings, is on the FBI’s validated list of those unaccounted for.
A statement from Hale Mahaolu, a private housing nonprofit, noted that as an independent living facility for people age 62 and older, the 35-unit Eono apartment complex did not offer housekeeping, in-home aides or nursing care, and that tenants were responsible for their own transportation, meals and activities.
The statement said Hale Mahaolu staff knocked on the doors of each unit around 8 a.m. Aug. 8 to encourage tenants “to be ready to evacuate themselves,” and most residents heeded the advice and left the property. However, when the resident manager decided to evacuate around noon due to the intensifying heat and smoke, he spotted four residents outside and encouraged them to leave with him, but they chose not to, the statement said.
Maui mayor Richard Bissen announced Tuesday the formation of a Lahaina Advisory Team, which will meet weekly with the mayor “to ensure the needs and desires of the community are part of discussions and decisions the County is involved in,” according to a county news release.
Team members, all Lahaina residents, are renowned waterman Archie Kalepa; Kaliko Storer, cultural adviser for Hyatt Resorts, Puu Kukui Watershed operations supervisor and Kula Kaiapuni Hawaiian immersion program parent; Kim Ball of Hi-Tech Maui Inc. and longtime Lahainaluna High School wrestling coach; Laurie DeGama, owner of No Ka Oi Deli and Lahainaluna PTSA president; and Rick Nava, president and owner of Lahaina-based MSI Maui and former board member and officer of the West Maui Taxpayers Association and Maui Chamber of Commerce.
Kalepa, Storer, DeGama and Nava are alumni of Lahainaluna High School, while Ball, DeGama and Nava all lost their homes in the Aug. 8 fire.
Two community meetings to be held at 5 p.m. Friday at the Lahaina Civic Center and 3 p.m Sunday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului will provide information on housing plans, air quality status, support programs and the establishment of a county Office of Recovery, the news release said.
The Office of Recovery “will address intermediate and long-term disaster recovery needs and be the center of coordination for integrated outcomes in community planning; housing; infrastructure; natural, historical and cultural resources; economic resiliency; and health and social service systems,” the release said. Bissen selected Josiah Nishita, currently deputy director of the Department of Management, to head the new office.
Gov. Josh Green and other officials will provide their own update on wildfire relief and recovery efforts at a 10 a.m. news conference today at the state Capitol. Scheduled to appear with Green are Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism Director James Tokioka; Department of Human Services Director Cathy Betts; and representatives from the American Red Cross and Hawai‘i Community Foundation.
>> A validated list of names of those unaccounted for is available at mauinuistrong.info/unaccountedfor. If you recognize a name on the list and know the person to be safe, or if you have additional information about the person that may help locate them, call the FBI at 888-814-7693 or visit fbi.gov/MauiFires.
>> To file a missing person report, email firstname.lastname@example.org and provide the reporting person’s first and last name, contact information and relationship to the unaccounted-for person, as well as their first and last name, age or date of birth, last known location and last known physical address of residence.
>> Immediate family members (parent, sibling or child) may provide a DNA sample by calling the Family Assistance Center at 808-270-7771 or emailing FAC@mauicounty.gov to schedule an appointment at one of the center’s locations. Family members who live outside Maui should call the FBI at 808-566-4300 or email HN-COMMAND-POST@ic.fbi.gov. DNA samples are only for identification of wildfire victims and survivors and will not be stored or used for any other purpose.