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The Monarch Times

Trapped in Lahaina

From August 8 to August 13, PE teacher Maricela Soto, her daughter, and her friends were trapped only half a mile away from deadly wildfires in West Maui. These fires that swallowed Lahaina were described by The Washington Post as “one of the nation’s deadliest disasters.”

The Monarch Times sat down and got a first hand account of her experience.

Day 1 – Fires swept over West Maui. Soto woke up to no electricity and no cell service. After leaving her condo to investigate, she found that all nearby establishments had been closed and school had been canceled. She had yet to hear from authorities about why life had paused in the area. Soto decided to go for a drive down a tourist street while services were shut down.

“When we went to … take the drive, there was police barricading both ways. You couldn’t leave. So if you understand the island, there’s one street only, to come into Lahaina, [and] one street to come out. That street passes by the main front street and where the Lahaina people burned down. We weren’t aware of all that yet,” said Soto. Upon returning to her condo, neighboring locals informed Soto that everything had been turned to ash. That night, the fires continued to burn while authorities had not officially notified Soto and her group.

Day 2 – Displaced people began showing up on the streets and in the parking lot outside Soto’s condo in Kaanapali. The displaced individuals warned Soto that authorities would prevent her from leaving the area, and from reaching her flight scheduled that day. Soto’s group was unable to pass through the barricades and missed their flight. On top of being without electricity and cell service, the water had become toxic. Soto reported that, still, no emergency services came.

To aid the displaced around the condo, Soto brought boiled eggs to those with children despite her own food spoiling due to the power outage. Thankfully, Soto and her band had tortillas, canned tuna, chips, and a portable stove to keep them fed.

Day 3 – “We knew there was already a fire and it was catastrophic,” said Soto. Now aware of the barricades, Soto no longer tried to evacuate the area.

Day 4 – Locals began to demand that tourists be removed from the area. Tourists occupied condos and required resources that could have been prioritized to locals who had lost their homes. But, in order to evacuate, people had to travel streets that were now littered with the corpses of those that fell victim to the fires.

“They closed the street to clean up all the people, and all the animals that burned… Nobody would speak about it. It was the weirdest thing,” Soto recalled.

Emergency services had not reached Soto’s area, “I kept saying, ‘Aren’t we in America?’ I didn’t see 911 or anything. No cops, no fire trucks.”

Soto mentioned that fire stations initially did not have access to water to extinguish the fires because water had been reserved for hydrating those in need.

Day 5 – Soto and her group prepared themselves to escape by ocean if needed. She struggled to sleep as the creeping gleam of the flames was visible from her condo window. Many locals around them had jumped into the water, while others stayed in their cars to better withstand the heat. Others had been falling unconscious on the streets due to smoke inhalation. Soto continued searching for food, electricity, and water. Still, emergency services failed to reach Soto.

Day 6 – Soto’s group managed to sneak through the barricade. “I told my daughter I didn’t want her to breathe the smoke, so I put a wet towel over her face. But it was ‘cause there were [dead] people on the side. I wish I didn’t see that,” she said.

Displaced with Hawaiian locals, Soto heard residents say, “They want our land. They want to take our land.” She talked with many locals, who feared that the U.S. government would seize their land after the government declared a state of emergency. Locals claimed the fires were orchestrated in order for the U.S. government to make a land grab.

For the next few days, she camped in a tent atop a car outside of a hotel before finding a flight back to California.

“Nobody can understand how much of a disaster it was unless they were there,” said Soto.


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About the Contributor
Kaylyn Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief
Hi! I’m Kaylyn Nguyen, founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Monarch Times. I started The Monarch Times to provide a source of information for students and bring the Mt. Eden and Hayward community closer together. Outside of writing, I’m involved in various clubs and enjoy photography, reading, and playing video games. Please look forward to more content from The Monarch Times for years to come!  
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