Hawaii residents begin returning to fire-ravaged homes
The Aug. 8 wildfire killed at least 97 people and destroyed at least 2,000 structures, mostly homes, in Lahaina
By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher
LAHAINA, Hawaii — Some Lahaina residents returned to their devastated properties Monday for the first time since the Hawaii town was destroyed by wildfire nearly seven weeks ago.
The prospect of returning has stirred strong emotions in residents who fled in vehicles or on foot as the wind-whipped flames raced across Lahaina, the historic capital of the former Hawaiian kingdom, and overcame people stuck in traffic trying to escape.
The Aug. 8 wildfire killed at least 97 people and destroyed more than 2,000 buildings, most of them homes. Some survivors jumped over a sea wall and sheltered in the waves as hot black smoke blotted out the sun.
Officials urged residents returning to the area not to sift through the ashes for fear of raising toxic dust. The first area to be cleared for reentry was a zone of about two dozen parcels in the northern part of Lahaina. Residents were allowed to return on supervised visits between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.
From a National Guard blockade near the burn zone, Jes Claydon has been able to see the ruins of the rental home where she lived for 13 years and raised three children. Little remains recognizable beyond the jars of sea glass that stood outside the front door.
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.
Darryl Oliveira, interim administrator of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, said officials wanted to ensure residents have the space and privacy to reflect or grieve as they see fit.
“They anticipate some people will only want to go for a very short period of time, a few minutes to say goodbye in a way to their property,” Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said last week. “Others may want to stay several hours. They’re going to be very accommodating.”
Those returning were given water, shade, washing stations, portable toilets, medical and mental health care, and transportation assistance if needed. Nonprofit groups also offered personal protective equipment, including masks and coveralls. Officials have warned ash could contain asbestos, lead, arsenic or other toxins.