Filipinos on Surviving Maui’s Wildfires, Coping with the Aftermath and Looking Ahead

by Edwin Quinabo

Hawaii is in a period of mourning, loss and shock.

Historic Lahaina town in Maui was leveled to debris in the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in more than a century, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

State officials say the death toll in Lahaina climbed to 99 as of Aug. 15, but it’s expected to rise.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said, “The number of missing went from 2,000 to 1,300. Our hearts will break beyond repair if that means that many more are dead. None of us think that. But we are prepared for tragic stories. They are finding 10 to 20 people a day. Probably, until they finish. It’s impossible to guess, really.”

The current death toll count is based off 25% of search and rescue in fire zones.

The Governor estimates damages to be $6 billion. More than 2,500 structures were destroyed.

Officials say the wildfires traveled about a mile per minute. Powerful wind gusts generated from hurricane Dora hundreds of miles south of the Hawaiian Islands-chain caused hot embers to leap from home to home, neighborhoods to neighborhoods, igniting everything in its path.  Fires moved quickly through overgrown grasslands, which experts believed intensified the blaze and its spread.

Maui residents describe the fire’s aftermath as apocalyptic, a level of devastation that came as a compete surprise, even as Maui residents are used to frequent brush fires.

Maui’s Filipino community – comprising 17% of the island’s population – are among those reeling from the impact of the wildfires.

Cecille Piros, owner of KPMW-FM 105.5 (Maui’s only Filipino Radio Station), told the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle “we have been airing daily on-air how our fellow Filipinos can support those affected by the fires. The fires began in Upcountry, Kihei, and Lahaina all around the same time.  We didn’t think of it much because we get brush fires all the time here on Maui.

“But I knew the very windy conditions would be a problem. Within hours the fires around the island were a big concern. My son and I began calling our employees in the affected areas to make sure they were ok because we got reports of residents needing to evacuate.  That’s when I started to see on the news and social media how serious this fire was…and that’s when a little panic set in for the safety of my friends and family,” Piros said.

Piros, who lives in Kahului, said she has family members in Lahaina who lost their homes, including many close friends and valued clients. “My thoughts and prayers go out to all the people who lost a loved one, their home or property.”

Wailuku, Maui resident, director of Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce Kit Zulueta Furukawa describes to the Chronicle the perilous situation. “Nobody was prepared to handle a disaster on this scale. There’s a lot of frustration, desperation and clamor from victims and volunteers for organization, as authorities create-and-suspend ideas to see what works. Having only one main road in and out of Lahaina has been a contentious point of discussion for West Maui community plans and there’s a lot “I-told-you-so” sentiments as well.

“The number of casualties will rise – many will be our friends and families.  But what is lost here is not just generational homes and memories attached to material possessions. It is not just the livelihood, historical buildings, schools, churches and the colorful vibrant town. We have lost a sense of place and especially for the locals, they lose a part of their identity,” Zulueta Furukawa said.

The search and rescue phase are ongoing, officials say. They’re asking relatives who have family or friends missing to give their DNA so they can try to identify those bodies.

The cause of the blaze is still under investigation, as well as why sirens on the island weren’t activated by the fire (though other alerts by phone or broadcast were), Hawaii emergency officials said.

Rafa Ochoa is among hundreds of Maui survivors wanting answers to the failed emergency response. He told NBC News, “There was no warning that we had to evacuate. Not even police rolling by telling us to evacuate. Where were you guys trying to get us out. We’re mad. We lost our town. We lost history. Our kids are traumatized.”

Ochoa had seconds to flee. He said he grabbed his kids and his friends’ children – their parents were at work – and scrambled everyone out to safety.”

Housing people, biggest challenge
Gov. Green said the state is focusing on the need for housing for survivors, evacuees and first responders. In the short term, they’ve set aside about 500 hotel rooms. There are about 1,100 evacuees spread across several shelters. The governor has even asked people across the state to open their homes to evacuees. He said they are working on long-term plans.

Officials are asking people who have vacation plans to Maui not to come to the island because those hotel rooms can go to people who need housing urgently. But some say this could harm Maui businesses who depend on tourism. Joy Cabanas Tagalan commented on social media, “Without tourism, how would we feed our kids and pay our bills.” It’s a catch-22 situation.

Some residents say a shutdown of Maui by asking tourists to stay away is reminiscent of the early COVID-19 pandemic days.

As the pandemic caught everyone by surprise that had government scrambling to stop the spread, the Maui fires have county, state, federal and private organizations working around the clock tackling both urgent needs and planning for the long haul.

Officials expect recovery of the island to take decades. Some are hopeful, and plan to stay in Maui to rebuild. Some have expressed concern that the island charm that made Maui so special could be lost and overrun by overdevelopment. But speculating now is too futuristic for most Maui residents whose main concern is meeting basic needs.

Racing to survive, houseless but grateful to be alive
Mike Cicchino of Maui shared his narrow escape on ABC News. “I saw that my whole neighborhood was on fire. Like everybody is saying, there was absolutely no warning. We left our home. We ended up getting stuck in traffic {near Front Street]. It was a death trap. Where we were driving to was on fire. Where we had just come from was on fire. We start running in the opposite direction, that’s on fire.” He said as they raced to find a place for safety, they ended up having as a last option, to go into the beach water. “We spent three to five hours going in and out of water.”

Benny Caluya flew in from the mainland to look for his 98-year-old aunty. “She was in a senior care center in Lahaina that was burned down,” he said.

Two sisters who also fled to the water spoke with CBS Mornings. Amelita Tingson said, “We spent six hours in the water. We jumped into the ocean because we were trapped.” Her sister Nelen Cesar counts on her blessings. “You know, our life is the blessings [we take from this tragedy]. We are thankful for this. It’s so sad. Everything is gone.”

Christine Galaga, Lahaina resident, who barely escaped with her family, said “Thank ‘God that we still have each other and we’re still alive and safe and accounted for.” She said they lost everything to the fire. “We are the only things we have.”

Like hundreds of Maui residents who happen to be separated by family at the time of the disaster, Bryan Aguiran described being gripped by fear and uncertainty. He told CNN, “I really had a breakdown inside my house. In our house there were pictures on my fridge. I was talking to the pictures. I was touching them. Letting them know, ‘please, I hope you guys can hear me. I’m okay.’” He said, “We had no phone reception.”

Bryan’s parents, wife and brother all made it out safely. But his wife’s uncle, cousin and aunt are still unaccounted for.

Bryan’s mother, Juvilyn Glinoga, said, “Smoke was black. We kept watching it. The fire was moving so fast. I asked the kids, let’s pray, hopefully there will be firefighters coming.”

She tried to assure the kids that everything was going to be okay “But we never seen any firefighters. We kept waiting. It got darker. Then we had to leave the house.

“It’s not easy to forget what we’ve seen, what we’ve experienced. It’s hard, but we must move on,” Glinoga said.

Bryan’s grandmother Feliciana Aguiran expressed happiness that her family is safe, all of whom are temporarily under one roof sleeping on cots, the floor and couches at Rosie Julaton’s house in Wailuku. Feliciana said, “I’m happy. I have six children and their family. All of us are here now safe.”

Charlie Camara told NBC News, “It looks like a war zone here.”

Bry Cebara appealed for help on social media, “We need medicine, blankets, food.”

Relief efforts
President Joe Biden signed a Disaster Declaration to deliver federal resources and support for the emergency response to help state and local recovery efforts.

Affected individuals are encouraged to register for federal assistance by visiting or use the FEMA App or call 1-800-621-3362. Maui residents can also visit in person with FEMA staff.

FEMA provides financial assistance and direct services to eligible individuals and households. Survivors may also be eligible to stay in an approved hotel for a limited amount of time if they are unable to return to their damaged, primary residence.

Federal Lenders: Borrowers with a Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae mortgage loan will receive an automatic 90-day forbearance, meaning that no payment will be due for at least 90 days. This forbearance is automatic – no contact with mortgage servicers is necessary.

A 90-day forbearance is also available for Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and Veterans Affairs (VA) borrowers; however, homeowners are required to contact their mortgage loan servicer to request the forbearance. 

While a 90-da forbearance is helpful, many Maui residents who are now jobless due to businesses burning down could find this period to be too short.

Emergency officials say if you have sustained a loss, contact your agent or insurance company as soon as possible. File a claim with your agent or directly with your insurance company by visiting its website or calling its local or toll-free number. For more information on how to file a homeowners insurance claim, visit or contact the Hawaiʻi Insurance Division at 808-586-2790 or

The Maui District Health Office said a coordinated health clinic is open in West Maui to assist, 7 days a week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The main clinic will be located at the Comprehensive Health Center on Akoakoa Place, located below the Lahaina Civic Center. Clinic services will include general wound care and first aid, pharmacy services, mental health services and other general health care.

No appointment is necessary for clinic services and insurance is not required. Mobile services operating out of the main clinic will also be available where care is needed and requested. For more information, call 808-984-8201 or 808-984-8260. Limited translation services will be available in Ilocano and Tagalog.

The Maui Food Bank is accepting both physical drop-off donations as well as monetary donations on its website

The World Central Kitchen is on the ground to help feed Maui’s houseless and emergency aid workers with prepared meals. Big Island native and WCK Chef Corps member Peter Abarcar Jr. is helping to prepare thousands of meals working from the Mauna Kea Resort. “I want to give them comfort food that is balanced and filling. All locally grown and sourced. We love these types of meals in Hawaii,” Abarcar Jr. said.

Kanani Adolpho is a shelter volunteer. She says it’s been difficult to see families, entire groups of people impacted by the fires. “Everyday is different at the shelter. I try to focus on different things to get by. Today, I am focusing on mental health.”

Emergency officials say the best way to help people is to send money through reputable organizations unless it is essential items like toiletries, underwear, water or meals.

A few drop-off locations on Maui accepting essential items include:

*Maluhia Collective, 1960 Main St., Wailuku
*Sparky’s Restaurant, 385 Hoohana St., Suite 5C, Kahului
*Pāʻia Bay Coffee Bar, 120 Hāna Hwy., Pāʻia
*Hi-Tech Store, 425 Koloa St., Kahului
*War Memorial Complex, 700 Halia Nakoa St. Wailuku

Zulueta Furukawa with the Filipino Maui Chamber and its president Dominic Suguitan formed the Kokua Maui to help those impacted by the wildfires. Other Filipino organizations – Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, Philippine Medical Association of Hawaii, FAUW and UPAAH – are in the works of offering various assistance from cash and in-kind donations to donation drives.

Gov. Green said in a press release Department Disaster/Emergency Coordinators, Disaster Response Workers, and state employees whose work involves continuing crucial operations/services must report to work on the island of Maui.

A Disaster Distress Helpline to cope with emotional distress is available 24/7 by calling 1-800-985-5990.

The Maui Community Mental Health Center is offering crisis mental health services. They can be reached at (808) 984-2150.

Sherry Menor-McNamara, President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, said the Chamber established a Business Relief Fund to help local businesses who have been impacted by the wildfires. “The extent of the loss is heartbreaking for every business, Hawaii resident and everyone that loves our state. The physical property damage is clearly significant, but the economic impact will be staggering. Businesses have been destroyed and hundreds of employees are out of work. We are just beginning to understand the full impact these wildfires created for our businesses, but we know the road to recovery will be challenging. The Business Relief Fund provides dedicated financial aid and support to impacted businesses throughout the state, as we work to rebuild our communities.”

Menor-McNamara said all proceeds from the Business Relief Fund will benefit Hawaii businesses seeking assistance to recover from the wildfires and that donations can be made online or by check made payable to “Hawaii Chamber of Commerce Foundation Relief Account.” It can be mailed to 733 Bishop St. Suite 1200, Honolulu, HI 96813.

The Hawaiʻi Community Foundation created the Maui Strong Fund to help aid communities affected by the Maui Wildfires. You can donate online at its website,, or you can send a check to Hawai‘i Community Foundation, 827 Fort Street Mall, Honolulu, HI, 96813. Make checks payable “Hawai‘i Community Foundation.”

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) recently held a bake sale with all proceeds to go to the Maui Strong Fund. They are also organizing a “JABSOM for Maui” T-Shirt Fundraiser. JABSOM, Hawaii State Rural Health Association, Hawaii UTelehealth, and AHEC are offering free telehealth services, including mental health counseling, evaluations and medication. For more information, call 808-375-2745 or visit

Beware of scams
Zulueta Furukawa said there are opportunists now trying to land-grab and force victims to give up their properties.

The State Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) warned Maui homeowners of unsolicited offers to buy their properties. Hawaii state law protects owners of distressed residential properties and provides penalties for persons who seek to exploit homeowners’ hardships for economic gain.

The Department said in a press release, “Financial pressure may prompt predatory buyers to capitalize upon the fear of foreclosure or the cost of rebuilding to induce owners to sell their properties at below-market prices. Homeowners who receive unsolicited communications about their properties should act with a heightened sense of doubt and skepticism.”

DCCA is working with the Office of Consumer Protection and the Regulated Industries Complaints Office (RICO). The Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) is entrusted with protecting the consumer public and may investigate matters such as home equity theft. 

“The Office of Consumer Protection has been vigilant about protecting vulnerable homeowners. The public is encouraged to immediately contact us with any concerns and questions,” said Mana Moriarty, Executive Director of the Office of Consumer Protection. “Any reported instances of misconduct will be investigated, and if confirmed, wrongdoers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Illegal conduct and those seeking to take advantage of those most vulnerable will not be tolerated.”

Members of the public receiving unsolicited offers should report the name, place of business, telephone number, and address of any person to DCCA’s Consumer Resource Center at 808-587-4272. 

Climate Change’s impact
Weather experts and scientists warn that more natural disasters like the Maui wildfires could be happening more frequently. Scientific evidence shows the burning of fossil fuels traps greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that heats up oceans and intensifies hurricanes and makes them more frequent. Burning of fossil fuels also creates dry conditions which makes forest fires more deadly.

They point out both of these – intensified hurricane in Dora and dry conditions in Maui – contributed to Maui’s wildfires.

Washington-based AAPI Victory Aliance issued a statement “We applaud President Biden’s swiftness in declaring a major disaster and sending additional federal aid to Hawaii. This [the wildfires] was preventable—AAPI communities have sounded the alarm for decades that countless Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander lives are at stake without a plan to address the climate crisis. As we continue to monitor the ongoing survivor search and property recovery processes, our hope is that this disaster is the wake-up call that officials in Washington need to take bold climate action.”

Former Hawaiʻi State Representative and AAPI Victory Alliance Board Member Patrick Branco, said, “AANHPIs have been experiencing the effects of the climate crisis here in Hawai’i for years; we have been sounding the alarm for urgent federal action. Sadly, we have not had a seat at the table for one of the most pressing conversations of our lifetime—and now our homes, our businesses, and our communities are burning. Right now, we need to make sure that those impacted are getting the help they need, but we have a long road ahead to protect our state, our country, and our future from the catastrophic threats of climate change.”

Zulueta Furukawa said “The Maui spirit remains strong. The sense of community driven with purpose is overwhelming. The challenge is to sustain this momentum once the cameras go away and once the headlines change. We hope you stick with us for the long haul.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.