Ember Anderson, a current BYU-Idaho student, shared that if she were to go back to Front Street in Lahaina and imagined that it could ever be burned down, she wouldn’t have believed it.

On Aug. 8, a wildfire on the island of Maui devastated the historic town of Lahaina. Over 100 people were killed, including five Latter-day Saints. Nearly 3,000 structures were damaged or destroyed in the fire.

On Monday, Maui police confirmed 114 fatalities and identified 27 individuals. There are three active fires in Maui: the Olinda, Kula and Lahaina fires. They are 85% or more contained. The Pulehu/Kihei fire was 100% contained on Aug. 12.

Ember Anderson

Anderson was born and raised on Maui and was interviewed by BYU-Idaho Radio Tuesday.

“I was going to Lahaina early in the morning to work with my dad at one of the resorts,” Anderson said. “We were driving down and I looked up the mountain, and I saw the fire upcountry.”

Anderson mentioned that fires in Maui are typical, but this fire was unique due to a hurricane passing south of the island.

“(The hurricane) created this gnarly sucking action. At the resorts all the power was off … It was just super windy all day. You could smell the smoke,” Anderson said. “None of the sirens ever went off … which they test every month, but they never went off for some unknown reason.”

Anderson and her father left Lahaina due to the strong winds — two hours later it was nearly impossible to leave Lahaina.

“We were stuck in traffic because they closed one of the roads,” Anderson said. “You could see the telephones bending and swaying toward the cars.”

Anderson made it home safely. Her house in Makawao was untouched by the flames, but she could see the smoke from where she lived.

“We were all sitting together watching the fire progress through social media,” Anderson recalled. “We had some friends in Lahaina. It was really scary.”

Ember Anderson is a student at BYU-I studying mechanical engineering. Image credit: Ember Anderson.
Ember Anderson is a student at BYU-I studying mechanical engineering. Image credit: Ember Anderson.

Latter-day Saint relief efforts

Anderson, like other Latter-day Saints in Maui, helps in relief efforts for locals.

“Me and my family have two stake centers in town, Kahului, that we’ve been volunteering at,” Anderson said. “We’ve been doing clothing, food, just kind of everything like that.”

On Saturday, Church Newsroom highlighted the stories of Latter-day Saints through a news article and video. Eighty members of the Lahaina 1st Ward lost their homes and many members of the Lahaina 2nd Ward were displaced, but the two meetinghouses in Lahaina did not burn.

“Those coming to the stake centers for help seemed shocked,” said Anderson. “They are trying to process what just happened. Many of them, their entire lives are just decimated. For a lot of the people that live over there, those homes are just ancestral.”

On Friday, Hawaii Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke toured two Maui stake centers which were used as temporary shelters.

“We are just so grateful for the outpouring of support; this shows what people are made of,” said Governor Luke. “In a time of crisis, in a time of devastation, it’s people, it’s community, it’s the Church that steps up.”

Anderson and other Maui locals have worked together to provide relief.

“Not a lot of the government has gotten involved,” said Anderson. “The community has really pulled together and there are so many boats and jet skis that just keep going over to Lahaina. You can’t really access it right now by car, so they are taking food, clothes, shelter, propane, gas and just everything they need.”

On Sunday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced they will donate $1 million to the American Red Cross, which will provide shelter, meals, bedding, hygiene kids, mental health services and more, according to a news release. The Kahului Hawaii Stake Center shelter was also dismantled, as people found other living spaces.

“They are trying to process what just happened,” said Anderson. “Many of them, their entire lives are just decimated. For a lot of the people that live over there, those homes are just ancestral.” Image credit: Church Newsroom.

How to help Maui

But the best way for Maui to heal, according to Anderson, is for tourists not to visit the island.

“There is this guy on Maui who is pretty active in the water sports community, his name is Kai Lenny,” said Anderson. “He has a (fundraiser) called the Positively Kai Foundation. He’s been a huge help in orchestrating all the supply runs. From the first day, he was on jet skis with all of his buddies just hauling stuff. And that’s a long jet ski ride all the way to Lahaina.”

Despite the tragedy of the wildfires, Anderson noted that the people of Maui are strong. 

“I want people to know that as bad as this is, there are so many people that have pulled together,” said Anderson. “It’s really cool to see how well our community works together to fight for each other.”

According to a BYU-Hawaii notice, the Church is currently discouraging gathering items to ship to Maui. Instead, Church leaders encourage members to make a donation to respectable organizations. Donations can also be made online to Maui County.

Anderson’s interview with BYU-Idaho Radio can be viewed on Spotify and on the radio’s website.