2 firefighters recount terrifying response in Lahaina and a last-minute rescue

Firefighters take an oath to serve and protect their community - and that's exactly what Capt. Jay Fujita and firefighter Kawika Casco did on Aug. 8.
Published: Aug. 25, 2023 at 7:10 AM HST|Updated: Aug. 25, 2023 at 6:33 PM HST
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LAHAINA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Capt. Jay Fujita thought he was going to die on Aug. 8.

Fujita was among the first responders desperately trying to fight the flames in Lahaina town that day. He says the intensity of the heat was like nothing he’s ever seen.

“The heat just saps your energy, you were just so fatigued,” Fujita said.

“I remember I was trying to even change my bottle. I couldn’t even do that. I couldn’t even change my own bottle.”

Fujita said he texted his family, saying his goodbyes as the windshield of his fire truck began to fade. “I was pretty sure that if we stayed there, we weren’t going to make it.”

At the intersection of Lahainaluna Road and Pauoa Street, Fujita and his colleague — Kawika Casco — says their fire engine got so hot, they had to get out in the middle of a firestorm.

“We decided to shelter in place, and on that road, we did pull a line try to protect ourselves with the water. The hose failed. It was too hot ... the hose burned,” he said.

Special Section Maui Wildfires Disaster

Casco said the ground was hot enough to touch through their protective gear.

“We just kind of sat there, pretty much trying to wait it out,” he said.


As the flames started closing in on them, a police SUV pulled out of the thick smoke, saving them from the burning heat.

That was the moment Kawika and his captain realized they were going to survive.

It was a moment of relief — until the weight of reality sunk back in.

“There’s something different for us here because we usually win,” Fujita said. “Whenever you go to fires, we usually pull together and win. And just one day, we didn’t win.”


These two heroes who have dedicated their whole lives to protecting others want the people of Lahaina to know they mourn with them.

“Lahaina is going to get through it and I will be there every step of the way to help, you know, in whatever capacity I can make that happen.”