Mourning from afar: Alabama family remembers woman killed in Lahaina wildfire

Published: Aug. 15, 2023 at 2:50 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 15, 2023 at 6:08 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After flames left a path of destruction in Lahaina, the heartbreak and pain has spread throughout the nation and the world.

One family in Alabama is mourning the death of their beloved sister, Carole Hartley, a longtime Maui resident.

She is one of the nearly 100 people who have died in the devastating fires.

Her sister, Donna Hartley, confirmed her death to HNN’s sister station in Alabama, WALA.

She recounts the moment she knew something was terribly wrong.

She turned on the TV and saw a chilling sight. A few seconds into the broadcast, Donna Hartley realized the video on her screen was showing the exact location of where her younger sister lived in Lahaina.

“I walked it up on the TV, I said, ‘This is how you get to Carole. She is four blocks up, take a left and she is the fourth house on the left. It’s gone. Her house is gone,’” she said.

Donna Hartley frantically tried to call her sister and her sister’s partner, Charles, but to no avail.

A friend from Maui finally reached out to her to inform her of the bad news.

“She told me they found Charles, but he was all burnt,” she said.

Charles called Donna Hartley soon after to update her on her sister.

“He called me, and he couldn’t talk to me at first because he was emotional. He said, ‘I can’t find Carole. I can’t find Carole. I can’t find her and I’m not going to stop until I find her,’” Hartley said.

Donna Hartley said Charles told her he and her sister were told to seek shelter from “hurricane winds,” but they had no idea what was coming for them. As they prepared for the winds, a neighbor across the street began yelling for help as a fire broke out near her home.

The couple tried to help their neighbor but as Charles attempted to navigate his way back to their home, smoke clouded his vision. Eventually Charles collapsed, and someone took him to the hospital.

When Charles realized Carole Hartley was missing, he formed a search party. Later, he found what he believes were her remains at the ashes of their property.

“He found her by her watch that she had on,” Donna Hartley said.

Hartley said another body was found, too. Charles told her it was likely a friend that had been living with them for years.

As Donna Hartley grapples with the loss of her sister, she’s ensuring Carole Hartley’s legacy isn’t extinguished.

“You ask me to tell you what I would like people to remember Carole as … well, she was beautiful. She had charisma, she was feisty, she was funny,” Donna Hartley said.

Carole Hartley worked at Marriot for years and was transferred to Maui when a new hotel opened. “She worked there for twenty-something years. She’s been in Maui for 40 years,” Donna Hartley explained.

She said her sister’s zeal for life was unmatched and it didn’t wane with age.

“Carole became a scuba diving instructor, she surfed, she worked with the Special Olympics. She had several kids with down syndrome that she sponsored. She saw them on a regular basis. That woman could move around most men. She was very strong,” Donna Hartley said.