OLOWALU, Hawaii — Yadira Ulloa was pumping gas near the apartment building where she lived on the western side of Maui when the winds kicked up, blowing shingles off the roof and propelling the wildfire that would soon incinerate her town of Lahaina.
The winds from a distant hurricane were so fierce they shook her car, and as the fire approached, Ulloa began to pray. Her teen daughter, she realized, was alone in their apartment.
“God guided me,” she said as she recalled the day last Tuesday when a wildfire ripped apart her community. “I went straight to my apartment and there was my daughter.”
“Let’s go!” Ulloa told her. “We ran away.”
Racing down the stairs, seeing the blaze come closer, Ulloa began to cry. “The fire didn’t stop,” she said. “It came running.”
They climbed into Ulloa’s blue truck and fled. The gas station, she later learned, exploded when the wildfire reached it, and the apartment building burned to the ground.
The inferno killed at least 101 people after racing from grasslands outside town into Lahaina.
The magnitude of the fire, which charred a 5-square-mile (13-square-km) area of town in hours, combined with the logistical challenges of recovery have taken a toll on many of Lahaina’s 13,000 year-round residents, who are also facing the prospect of precious tourist dollars evaporating.
Ulloa, who works as a housekeeper, and her daughter found refuge with an older daughter in the village of Olowalu. But the 55-year-old has been barely able to eat or sleep in the days since. Like many here, she wishes there had been an emergency alert warning to spur people into leaving sooner.
Taxi driver Kiet Ma, 56, was at home as the fire bore down, just 50 feet (15 m) away from his house. His wife Daisy Luu, 56 and also a taxi driver, was out on the road somewhere in the swirling black smoke. He couldn’t reach her because phone and electrical services were down.
Finally, at around 4:30 pm, he said, “I decided it’s time to run.” He followed a neighbor out as the fire bore down. Emergency sirens came on, he said, but their announcements blared evacuations for a different part of town. For two nights, he slept in his car outside the fire zone before joining his wife at her sister’s home in Olowalu – the same home where Ulloa’s daughter rented a room.
On Thursday, Ma and Luu went back to check on their home – it was gone. Twenty years of work, driving private taxis on the island, putting everything into their house, and there was nothing left. Luu showed a visitor before-and-after photos – a peaceful looking ranch-style suburban home, bounded by a fence on a property dotted with palm trees. And then rubble.
“All my life put in, and it’s gone in a minute,” she said. — Reuters