West Maui Community Rallies Around Fire Victims

Deputy Fire Chief Neal Bal
Deputy Fire Chief Neal Bal

OLOWALU, Maui (KHNL) - The fire also forced hundreds to flee their homes and left more than 100 visitors stranded. So, the American Red Cross opened several shelters last night.

More than 400 people stayed overnight at a shelter in Kahului. And, about 120 visitors spent the night at the Kahului airport. Shelters reopened Thursday afternoon at Maui High School and the Lahaina Civic Center for both stranded residents and tourists. Federal funds have also been authorized to help cover the costs to fight the fire.

Fires like this can destroy, but it can also bring people together.

This new flare up adds to the frustration firefighters and residents feel. But as the community rallies around the victims, they celebrate the strength of the human spirit .

The West Maui wildfire scorches more than 1,400 acres. Ground and air crews fight back unpredictable flames.

"We did a recon late evening where we saw little fire storms forming, little heat tornadoes that pick up all these embers and throw them as much as a quarter mile away," said Deputy Fire Chief Neal Bal of the Maui County Fire Department.

Strong winds hamper firefighting efforts.

And this is why the fire spread so quickly: dry, brittle brush makes this area highly flammable.

The fire danced near homes in Olowalu.

"Every time the fire comes down near the homes, the wind shifts," said Adeline Rodrigues, a long-time Olowalu resident. "The wind blows the fire away from our place."

But not everyone was lucky. The fire destroyed one home, and Haku Applegate lost most of his farm.

"It took about 60 percent of our operating farm," said the owner of the Olowalu Nui Farm. "We have five acres and a good two to three acres have been burned."

The fire devoured cars and the irrigation system. Without water in these dry conditions, what's left will wither in the next few days.

"That's the hardest part," he said. "Trying to figure out what to do after a disaster, which is pretty much what this is -- a financial disaster."

Three workers who lived on the farm are now homeless. Applegate said he's not sure if he can rebuild, but he appreciates the outpouring of support.

"Maui always comes together," he said. Maui always helps their own people. That's the best thing about Maui; Maui always takes care of everyone."

The farm's estimated damage is around $300,000. Applegate and his father, H. Jon, don't know if they can rebuild. They spent half a million dollars building the farm from