Return to Maui: Lahaina reopens to residents after deadly wildfire, but heartbreak remains

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LAHAINA, Hawaii (KABC) — It was August when a horrible, massive fire reduced the town of Lahaina to ashes. Now that months have gone by, you might assume things are getting better.

Not even close.

We not only don’t know what happened in terms of the cause of the fire, but some devastated families are just now being allowed to see their burned out homes.

ABC7’s David Ono met with a family who waited more than three months to see the place they once called home.

“Reality sets in, and it really hurts.”

As 76-year-old Fea-b-lei Alcomindras stood at what was once the front door to the only home she has ever known, there was only pain and silence.

“I remember going to kindergarten from this property,” she recalled. Now, one of her many challenges is to not let the tragedy erase four generations of joy and love.

“This wall here was filled with pictures,” she pointed to the rubble as she spoke with Ono.

When you actually see it, and feel, you know, that everything is gone, reality sets in, and it really hurts.

Fea-b-lei Alcomindras, Lahaina resident

Residents are not allowed into Lahaina’s disaster zone until they are issued a pass. Alcomindras was finally able to visit her property for the first time the week of Thanksgiving.

“When you actually see it, and feel, you know, that everything is gone, reality sets in, and it really hurts,” she said.

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Her family actually had two homes on the property, and years earlier, there was a third. Like so many families on the islands, they cherish and preserve their history. It’s not uncommon for multiple generations to have lived in one place.

So this isn’t one lifetime of memories lying in the rubble, it’s many.

Alcomindras said she remembers exactly where she was the day the fires broke out.

“Sitting down in the hallway because the wind was so strong,” she said. “We were afraid the windows would break.”

Her daughter, Koleka, wasted no time getting her out.

“I came in, grabbed her, I said, ‘We’ve got to go.'”

Questions continue, but mystery remains

Jeremy Lee, a reporter for KITV 4 Island News, has been investigating the fire and all that went wrong since the beginning. He said a stretch of highway described as the main way out to the north of Lahaina was shut down for at least two-and-half hours at the height of the fire.

He said he knows this because a local resident, Travis Miller, stood on that road and filmed for more than two hours.

Police shut the highway down due to downed power lines, but they were harmless.

“We now know that Hawaiian Electric says that the power was turned off in the morning, so they could have utilized this highway,” said Lee. “But where was the communication? Where was the coordination?”

Instead, people could not get out of their gridlocked neighborhoods.

“You were diverted towards the water, towards Front Street,” recalled Lee.

In footage, you could actually see vehicles being funneled off the highway and deeper into historic Lahaina, where there was no way out.

A frantic 911 call from that day sets the scene:

Operator: “911 emergency, how can I help you?”

Caller: “I’m calling down from Lahaina, we’re on Front Street and Baker. There are a bunch of cars stuck in traffic down here, and the structures around us are on fire.”

Eyewitness News captured video of Front Street, just hours after the tragedy, showing destroyed vehicles all along the road.

Lee shares more about where he and many others believe the fire started – in the hills above Lahaina.

“If you look at bodycam video in the 3 p.m. hour, the first hour, really, of the fire, firefighters, and even police officers, are grabbing hoses and these houses are saved,” he said as he pointed to homes that are still standing.

However, the fierce winds quickly pushed the fire down the hill, and within two-and-half hours, all of Lahaina was gone and 100 people were killed.

A heartbreaking aftermath

Now, thousands of families are left to deal with the tragedy, and the reports of predators swooping in to take advantage of the heartbroken are true.

“I already have had three calls to buy my property,” said Alcomindras. In fact, her daughter said her mom received a call the first day after the fires.

That disrespect is what magnifies their challenges. The Alcomindras family said the outside world just doesn’t get it.

These aren’t just burned down buildings, it’s their ancestry. No matter how determined they are to protect it, they worry it may already be too late.

That’s the agony within the silence that you can hear loud and clear.

Copyright © 2023 KABC Television, LLC. All rights reserved.

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