IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Maui Survivor: ‘It Felt Like the Fire Was Everywhere’

In Hawaii, an alarm system goes off every first of the month to test the emergency management system, something heard every month she lived there, and everyone knows to leave when the sirens go off. But this time they didn’t go off.

A man walks his dog through the heart of a ravaged Lahaina neighborhood on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, after a catastrophic wildfire swept through the Maui, Hawaii, town. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Robert Gauthier/TNS
(TNS) - Melissa Devine was driving to work on Wednesday morning, answering a friend's message if her yoga studio would be open. As she drove south on the island of Maui from Haiku to Kihei, she saw fires up in the mountains.

After work, she got plenty more messages from friends, scared of the fires burning in houses around them. She didn't know what to think.

"It felt like the fire was everywhere," Devine said, echoing many sentiments of the worst wildfires in Hawaii's history.

Devine made the move out there from Lockport, following her heart and the call of the island. Her first experience in Maui was as she was traveling the world in 2015. When leaving Australia and making her way back to the east coast, she made a stop on the island, living there until 2017.

"I loved Maui so much that after moving back to Lockport, my partner and I said, 'We're moving to Maui,'" Devine said.

Devine and her boyfriend have lived in a cottage in Haiku near the northern coastline since the fall of 2021, with her yoga studio in Kihei on the island's southern coast. She was able to practice yoga right away, but had to study massage there due to state licensing requirements. She also works a third job at a luau restaurant.

From Kihei, Devine could see the smoke from the Lahaina fires from beyond Maalaea Bay the amount so thick it blocked the sun. Driving back home to Haiku on Route 311 toward Kahului, as the other two wildfires spread across the middle of the island, she described it as armageddon.

"There was urgent panic in the air as everyone was evacuating," Devine said. "We didn't know the magnitude of the scene and what was behind us."

In Hawaii, an alarm system goes off every first of the month to test the emergency management system, something Devine heard every month she lived there. When working at the luau restaurant, everyone knows to get up and leave when they go off.

Those sirens did not go off, as other news outlets have reported.

Devine's business and home did not suffer any damage, but the neighborhood in Kihei where her best friend lives in was wiped out. A friend posted in Instagram about how glad he was making it out of Lahaina, with a fallen power line missing her car by 2 inches.

While she was lucky to not know anyone who was seriously hurt, there are others she knows who lost their whole family.

"I don't personally know anyone who was affected," Devine said. "I'm one person away from being that."

Weather conditions exasperated any possible wildfires, with winds coming south from Hurricane Dora and the islands experiencing drought conditions.

These fires have been the largest natural disaster in the state's history. As of Monday afternoon, the official death toll stands at 96, making it deadliest wildfire of the past century, with thousands more still missing. The Hawaii Tourism Authority said at least 46,000 people have evacuated the island.

Smoke can still be seen off the mountains near Lahaina, with roads into there blocked unless you are a supply truck, resident, or a tourist staying at a hotel there. While the fires there have been 100% contained, as well as one in nearby Kaanapali, the one near Kula is still going on.

In the aftermath, Devine has volunteered all her free time in helping out in anyway she can. She worked at a food kitchen, at a shelter set up at Kahului War Memorial Stadium this past weekend, helped foster a dog, and teaching free yoga classes to those needing a moment's reprieve.

Devine described the recovery efforts as a marathon, requiring years of work and an estimated $5.52 billion to rebuild everything that was lost. There are also concerns of real estate agents trying to buy land from Native Hawaiians in Lahaina.

Still, the aloha spirit is strong with everyone there.

"We have to keep the spirit in times of darkness," Devine said. "We have to be hopeful it's going to get better."

©2023 the Niagara Gazette (Niagara Falls, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.