“Maui nō ka ‘oi” 

LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — A search of the wildfire devastation on the Hawaiian island of Maui on Thursday revealed a wasteland of obliterated neighborhoods and landmarks charred beyond recognition, as the death toll rose to at least 53 and survivors told harrowing tales of narrow escapes with only the clothes on their backs.

A flyover of historic Lahaina showed entire neighborhoods that had been a vibrant vision of color and island life reduced to gray ash. Block after block was nothing but rubble and blackened foundations, including along famous Front Street, where tourists shopped and dined just days ago. Boats in the harbor were scorched, and smoke hovered over the town, which dates to the 1700s and is the biggest community on the island’s west side.

“Lahaina, with a few rare exceptions, has been burned down,” Hawaii Gov. Josh Green told The Associated Press. More than 1,000 structures were destroyed by fires that were still burning, he said.

The death toll will likely rise as search and rescue operations continue, Green added, and officials expect it will become the state’s deadliest natural disaster since a 1961 tsunami killed 61 people on the Big Island.


Comment: The death toll from this fast moving fire is shocking. Lahaina is not that big a town. It’s located on the normally dry leeward side of Maui and it’s structures are largely wood. It is now the fire season with the seasonal dry tradewinds. The dry seasons have been getting progressively longer and dryer over the years. I don’t know whether this is a product of climate change or cyclical weather patterns. One man-made factor that increased the fire risk is the prevalence of nonnative grasses, which are especially common on Maui, and are more flammable than indigenous plants. These grasses were introduced as cattle feed on the large, open range cattle ranches.

For two years, I spent at least one weekend a month on Maui with our sister company in the Hawaiian National Guard, Company C, 1/299th Infantry. I made a lot of good friends there including a number of paniolos from those cattle ranches. I also spent a lot of time in Lahaina. It probably wasn’t quite as touristy back then, but it was an artsy place with reminders of New England whalers everywhere. That’s gone now.

When I first heard of the wildfire, I thought of the old banyan tree. It was planted on April 24, 1873, in Lahaina to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of first American Protestant mission, long after the New England whalers left their mark. Initial reports were that the tree was gone, but it remains standing although badly scorched. I hope it makes it. Badly scorched trees often survive wildfires. It’s survival will become a potent rally point for the people of Lahaina to literally rise from the ashes. 

The title of this post translates as “Maui is the best,” which was often heard among my comrades within Company C, 1/299th Infantry. I heard it  again today during a TV interview with a Maui local. It brought back memories. I am confident the spirit of ohana and “Maui nō ka ‘oi” will carry the people of Lahaina through.


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21 Responses to “Maui nō ka ‘oi” 

  1. Sam says:

    Curious what the origin of the fire was? Tragedy nonetheless.

  2. KjHeart says:

    This is all heartbreaking – HUGE Loss


  3. F&L says:

    Thank you, TTG. Your commentary and illustration superbly illuminate this episode of ongoing infernal consumption of people and their habitats. It looks like a devastated battlefield. What percentage, in terms of area, do you estimate the devastation encompasses relative to the area of Maui itself?
    -The island of Maui, known as the “Valley Isle”, is the second largest in the Hawaiian archipelago. It has a land area of 735 square miles, is 48 miles long and 26 miles wide.

    -The Maui High Performance Computing Center at the Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing observatory[35] in Kīhei is a United States Air Force research laboratory center that is managed by the University of Hawaii. It provides more than 10 million hours of computing time per year[dubious – discuss] to the research, science, and military communities[citation needed].

    -Another promoter of high technology on the island is the Maui Research and Technology Center,[36] also located in Kihei. It is a program of the High Technology Development Corporation,[37][38] an agency of the State of Hawaii, whose focus is to facilitate the growth of Hawaii’s commercial high-technology sector.[39]

    Maui is an important center for advanced astronomical research. The Haleakala Observatory[40] was Hawaii’s first astronomical research and development facility, operating at the Maui Space Surveillance Site (MSSS) electro-optical facility. “At the 10,023-foot summit of the long-dormant volcano Haleakala, operational satellite tracking facilities are co-located with a research and development facility providing superb data acquisition and communication support. The high elevation, dry climate, and freedom from light pollution offer virtually year-round observation of satellites, missiles, man-made orbital debris, and astronomical objects.”

    From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maui
    A full photo would let someone estimate by counting houses and streets etc. What is visible there is not large in area relative to 735 sq mi, but what are those dwellings, do they service or function in some way other than tourism or pleasant retirement where people write their memoirs and browse social media?

    • TTG says:


      The fire itself seems to encompass no more than a couple of square miles, but Lahaina only encompasses a couple of square miles. It’s a small town of mostly one, maybe two, story wooden structures. A lot of history was lost. So relative to the entire island of Maui, the devastation covers only a small area. Even Kahalui is relatively small. The vast majority of the island is mountain jungle and dormant volcano.

      • F&L says:

        Latest on apple news said possibly 1000 missing.

        • TTG says:


          Yes, I’m afraid the death toll will be in the hundreds. With those hurricane strength winds, it must have been a nuclear-like firestorm.

          • F&L says:

            I feel obliged but not at all pleased to be the one to point out that however heartless and cruel it may sound especially at such a time as this, that there resumes in our midst plentiful evidence of our people’s rush to express shock and grief over this calamity and try to better each other with ostentatious displays of grace and charity without pausing for even a brief moment to contemplate the fact that according to many systems of belief we here below are governed by a deity who is a stern god of judgement who inflicts upon an ungrateful and sinful humanity wallowing in lust and depravity the most violent reprisals for their iniquities. It bears close scrutiny, our kind’s behavior, it does. That being said, it goes without saying that I speak for everyone in saying that our thoughts and prayers go out to the relatives and loved ones of those who perished under this infernal affliction of August 10. According to the Roman historians, Jerusalem was destroyed twice and each time, the consummation of the temple’s ruin occured on the day of the year those ancients marked on their calendars as the Tenth of Loos, by which they signified the month which we, naming it after the late deified Emperor Augustus, call August.

    • scott s. says:

      F&L historically it was Pioneer Mill (main owner James Campbell) engaged in sugar culture. Closed in 1999. Back in the day we had “cane fire” days when they burned off the fields. Pioneer brought in many Japanese contract workers to work the sugar. Lahaina town would be the commercial hub for the plantation camps. Lahainaluna school dates to 1835.

      • F&L says:

        Scott s.

        Victim of incurable terpitude and waywardness that I am, while researching the dimensions of the various islands out there in the “paradise” of travel brochures I looked at the “Notable people” section under English Wikipedia’s Maui article and found Renee Alway who married a Dewitt, was a fashion model. So I looked her up, lonely old bachelor me, and after admiring her slim, fit presence, discovered that.



        The second is a CNN reporter who could easily double as a star of any good combat film showing ruins earlier today and pointing out a home of a Fleetwood Mac star which perished along with the first hotel ever in the state of Hawaii, after a brief survey of an old cherished tree which may have barely survived. I preferred the somber silent presentation on the NYTimes home page but it needs a subscription to see, and the CNN guy’s local color is appreciated. Other TikTok clips featured celebrities outdoing each other to show concern and donate. Billionaires are the finest citizens. I already knew that.

        I remember Hawaiian Brian, a legendary pool hustler who visited our bar and Julian’s billiards on Union Square. And a fantastically powerful and hugely optimistic former US Army Sargent who had just married the restaurant owner’s daughter in a Florida diner where I was hired to train him up to speed as a short order cook immediately after college during a southern soujourn to Ft Lauderdale & nearby Hollywood. He learned fast and I was let go. The gentleman Jewish gangster owner had lost his young son to Chicago mafioso who had kidnapped him because he didn’t agree to their vending machine terms. The cops turned on the siren so the crooks threw the kid out of the speeding car, figuring they’d get away because the cops would be required to stop. They did. They got away. The kid died. So they ran to south Florida. Sargent Jackie. Can’t recall his last name. Sunnier than the States of Florida and Hawaii combined. Strong as a mule.

        Will it turn out to be spacemen testing a directed charge explosive fire weapon paid by the Pentagon so they can say it was their enemy of the week, or did Colonel Noriega escape aboard one of the helicopters from which he threw peace activists into rivers of piranha? I was a poor student who never read any of Mitchener’s or Uris’s books, regrettably. I was burned out of a huge apartment three years after a tornado hit it. And a million other things. The most beautiful student we ever had, Zoe, would have been buried under 20 million tons of rubble on 911 if she hadn’t stopped to buy lip gel ten minutes earlier. All 36 firemen across the street from where I worked died during the rescue attempts. And on the smart TV just across from where I type on a gadget, top row far left panel is Billy Graham and the title of his sermon is “The cost of not following Jesus.” And I know that every word of it will be true eternally.

        Thank you Scott S.

  4. scott s. says:

    Before Lahaina went up, there had been for I think 2 days a fire in upcountry around Makawao, also the airport in Kahalui was closed for a bit, IIRC from smoke. It’s very typical to get wildfire in Central Maui in summer. Much of that land had been owned by Princess Ruth (last descendant of King Kamehameha) and she quit-claimed it to sugar baron Claus Sprekels (it didn’t seem to have any value) who was able to get the courts to recognize his title. He was able to engineer the irrigation tunnels / ditches that made sugar culture possible. TTG since your time sugar is pau, and that land has gone to non-natives grass/shrubs. We are hearing a lot of brave talk about rebuilding / Lahaina will be back, but judging from Kauai post-Iniki that seems to be a bit wishful thinking.

    It is possible to go by road to west Maui via the west-side coast road, but once you get a little past Kapalua resort heading north the road turns to about 1-1/2 lane and is kind of a two hour white knuckle drive (steep drop to seaward). It’s a popular bike route though (about 70 miles) easier than the 35 mile climb from Paia to top of Haleakala.

    • TTG says:

      scott s,

      I remember the sugar cane and the sweet smell of the burning fields before harvest. I also remember the road out to Lahaina. At least it was less harrowing than the road to Hana. Those invasive species are going to be the death of the Islands. I’m surprised there’s no snake infestation like in Florida, unless the mongoose are just that badass. You may be right about the rebuilding. It’s probably going to take some serious investment in the community to prevent it from becoming no more than a series of mega-resorts.

  5. walrus says:

    My condolences to the people of Hawai.

    As a volunteer firefighter in the worlds worst fire region all I can say is that when the conditions reach a certain point, there is nothing to do but leave. I guess if it wasn’t done before, from now on you will have a top notch system for warning and hopefully containing these fires. Let that be the memorial to the victims.

  6. Kim Sky says:


    With an unbelievable military presence on the islands, I wonder why the military did not help with the fire-fighting?

    I know a pilot from Hawaii, now in Oregon who has done tones of spotting for major drops of retardant on fires in Oregon.

    Perhaps they just have to keep their bases safe?

    Thanx, Kim

    • TTG says:

      Kim Sky,

      I’m surprised, and bothered, that a massive response from the military isn’t more evident. I know a few fire fighting helicopters were sent, but during the height of the fire, the winds kept all aerial response grounded. My first thought was that every company in the 25th Infantry Division had a self-contained field mess team at one time. I don’t know if that’s still the case. If I was the Division Commander, I’d have sent every damned bit of assistance I could send and keep it coming as long as needed by air and sea. There should be field kitchens, portable showers, tentage as required, medical and engineering support. It should be a no brainer. Maybe we’re just not seeing it.

    • walrus says:

      Kim, same question about using the defence forces for fire fighting was asked here during and after the 2019/2020 New South Wales fires that burned 13 million acres.

      Short answer: forget it.

      First, They don’t have the training they can’t get the training without taking away from their normal roles and fire fighting skills would need a refresher and re-accreditation every year like ours.

      Second, they don’t have the equipment. Our trucks are designed to protect the crew for a minimum of five minutes “burn over” and we practice it each year.Same with out PPE, it’s specialised.

      Third, even if you had both training and equipment, the services are not needed. The roads and tracks arr generally narrow and under fire attack, there is little room to deploy, in any case, fire fighters form strike teams from interstate and overseas when numbers are needed. I spent a week in a strike team in NSW in 2019. We have approximately 25,000 volunteer firefighters in Victoria. I forget how many teams we sent North that year.

      Best use of the services? Logistics and infrastructure. I got a ride home with the rest of our 100 man strike team in a C17!

  7. walrus says:

    I hope the President is planning to visit Hawaii right now. 89 souls so far. Those who survived this are going to need help for many years to come. Sounds like defence forces are doing exactly what they should be doing.

  8. Kim Sky says:

    At least: “There should be field kitchens, portable showers, tentage as required, medical and engineering support.”

    Hey, they need the practice! War plans in Taiwan? How many civilians will be doing the same thing? Jumping into the ocean to survive!

    Listen to Lyle Goldstein’s analysis of recent wargame of Chinese invasion of Taiwan

    As I have seen, Hawaii is a major pro-military community! It would be beautiful to see a hospital ship off shore.


    Listen to Lyle Goldstein’s analysis of recent war game of Chinese invasion of Taiwan


    • leith says:

      Kim –

      Only two Hospital Ships still in service. USNS Comfort is in Norfold, Mercy is currently on humanitarian assistance in Phu Yen Viet-Nam.

      I think I saw news reports today that Hawaii National Guard units are now assisting in Lahaina.

  9. English Outsider says:

    On another aspect of the emergency, a link I’ve just seen on Dr North’s site in England,


    I’d have just taken the water given that it seemed to be needed urgently. Surprised they didn’t.

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