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University Members Affected by Maui Fires

Courtesy of Raelynn Yoshida
Smoke from the wildfires linger throughout Maui.

On August 8th, 2023, multiple fires struck the island of Maui, Hawaii. The harsh hurricane winds catalyzed the fires that destroyed locations on the island, including Lahaina, Kihei and part of the Maui countryside. Natural causes are at the forefront of the event, but Maui is also fighting against the Hawaiian Electric Company for its lack of awareness of multiple weather warnings and failure to take action. The company could have disconnected the power lines, which would have prevented this event from escalating as quickly as it did. 

Senior Raelynn Yoshida is from Hawaii and was with her family in Maui when the fire started.

“At around 4 p.m., we noticed dark smoke blowing towards the neighborhood from up the mountain,” Yoshida said. “I continued watching the fire through the window, and at 4:27 p.m., I noticed new white smoke coming from very close by.  I alerted my uncle, who went to check it out. He came back less than five minutes later and told us to quickly pack up the car and get in. We only grabbed a few things and the kids. We tried to drive out of the neighborhood but decided that the fire was too close and ditched the car. I grabbed my eight-month-old cousin, put her under my t-shirt and began running towards the smoke to the exit, as it was the only way out of the neighborhood.” 

Luckily, Yoshida’s family and close friends were safe and her house was not affected. However, there are numerous families who lost everything in the fire. The day after Yoshida’s evacuation, her family began aiding those who were left with nothing. 

“I felt almost numb seeing all the people at the shelter,” she said. “I had been doing the same thing they were just a day before, escaping from the fire, but now I was in an entirely different position than them. At the same time, it was really heartwarming to see my community working 24/7 to care for each other.”

Originally in Maui for a family vacation, Communication Department Professor Jessica Kartalija reported on CBS Philadelphia from Maui during the fires. Kartalija was able to speak to many locals and hear their stories. 

Every story we heard, was just heartbreaking—especially those involving children,” Kartalija said. 

However, Kartalija emphasized the evident involvement of the Hawaiian community.

“The more we learned about the trauma people were experiencing, the more we heard of all the ‘good’ that was happening at the same time,” she said. “Everywhere you turned, people were finding ways to help. While heavy sadness was felt on the island, a feeling of love and ‘ohana’ (family) was prevalent as well.” 

While Lahaina is unrecognizable, this town could have a bright future ahead. 

“Many who have visited Maui know Lāhainā town as a tourist destination, but it is so much more than that,” Yoshida said. “It is a deep-rooted community with rich Hawaiian history and importance. It would not be the place it is without the people, so I hope the people will be able to remain where they were once rooted.”

Hopefully, this unfortunate event will give Lahaina the opportunity to cultivate their culture even more than before and give the locals a chance to share their voice regarding their home. 

Even if we are not directly in Maui, we can support relief efforts in many ways. Junior Oliva Augustine, another Hawaiian native, highlighted the importance of keeping tourism alive on the island. 


“While my family was all physically unaffected by the fires, my dad’s work relies on tourism, which has been severely impacted by the fires,” Augustine said. “Right now, I know that people are again asking tourists not to cancel their vacations and to continue to come to Maui because many families and small businesses rely on tourism to make their livelihood.”


Whether keeping the conversation about the fire alive, continuing to send relief packages to the island or even traveling to Maui in the near future, anyone can continue to make a positive impact on those individuals who have lost their homes and the island that is so rich in culture and history. 


Following Instagram accounts such as @lahaina_ohana_vemo, @kakoo_haleakala, @helpmauirise or @kula_ohana_venmo is a great start in staying informed about survivor stories, current conditions and ways to lend a helping hand. A small action from one person is a major action to those in Maui. 

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    Lita MarcellusSep 14, 2023 at 2:07 pm

    Wonderful & compassionate article by my great-niece, Raelynn Yoshida. Thank God Raelynn, my nephew, his wife & 2 children are safe fleeing the fire about a month today.
    Raelynn truly enjoys & thrives at Villanova University, & she is in her final senior year. I was born & raised on Maui just like Raelynn. I attended another established Catholic University in Pennsylvania years ago & became a permanent resident. I do return home, Maui, every year to bond with my Ohana.
    Please HELP the Maui people if you are able. People of Maui need your help or kokua which means to help in Hawaiian. Thank you very much for your prayers, support & compassion!!!