LAHAINA >> The first Lahaina evacuees with passes to reenter the burn zone today began returning to their homes along Kaniau Road, known as Zone 1-C.
The property owners are those who live or own property along Kaniau Road, which was among the first to be cleared of initial toxic debris from the Aug. 8 fire that killed at least 97 people and destroyed more than 2,000 buildings, most of them homes. The neighborhood, above the Wahikuli Wayside Park, is near the ocean and the Lahaina Civic Center, where President Joe Biden recently met with survivors during his Aug. 21 visit to Maui.
Zone 1-C is part of the larger Wahikuli neighborhood, on the northern edge of where Lahaina’s 2,170 acres burned, appears to have largely survived the inferno, judging by images on Google Maps, while many other properties were leveled by the fast-moving flames.
Darryl Oliveira, interim administrator of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, told media gathered at the reopening checkpoint that there are about 25 parcels in Zone 1-C, and that some parcels have more than one property on the home.
Oliveira said 23 people picked up permits for their parcels, and that before 10 a.m. this morning 16 permit holders had already reentered to visit the properties where they lived to collect information and photographs for insurance purposes and, most important, perhaps find some closure. By mid-day 25 cars had come through the checkpoint.
Jes Claydon told the Associated Press that she has been able to see the ruins of her rental home from a National Guard blockade near the burn zone. Little remains recognizable beyond the jars of sea glass that stood outside the front door of the home that she lived in for 13 years and raised three children.
Claydon hoped to collect those jars and any other mementos she might find.
“I want the freedom to just be there and absorb what happened,” Claydon said. “Whatever I might find, even if it’s just those jars of sea glass, I’m looking forward to taking it. … It’s a piece of home.”
Claydon’s home was a single-story cinderblock house painted a reddish-tan, similar to the red dirt in Lahaina. A few of the walls are still standing, and some green lawn remains, she said.
Oliveira said officials hope to pick up the pace of re-entry, but must finalize those decisions with the EPA.
“We know that some of the ones we looked at there are still sporadic parcels that they haven’t completed the waste clean up yet. Although overall a large area has been cleared, we still have some that have some hazardous conditions,” Oliveira said.
Oliveira said officials hope to complete re-entry for all zones within the next one to two months.
Jeffrey Hickman, director of public affairs for the state of Hawaii Department of Defense, said reopening plans for the next restricted zones are expected to be announced later this week. Hickman said information about re-entry can be found on Mauirecovers.org.
Media from across the country gathered at a viewing zone near the checkpoint to witness the first return.
Carla Raisler, public information officer with Maui County, cautioned media to treat the return as they would a funeral.
“Respect is the word of the day,” said Raisler, who is a Lt. Colonel in the Kentucky National Guard who volunteered to assist Maui in the wake of the wildfires.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.