As the result of an email that I received late on Friday night, Saturday saw me out at Lahaina Gateway, volunteering with the relief effort for those effected by the wild fires almost three weeks ago.
Volunteers met up in the town of Wailuku, on the north west side of the island, at 7:45am Saturday morning. A group of sixty two volunteers had shown up. About half had been over to Lahaina before, half had not. We were briefed on what to expect, how we should behave and then boarded the two buses that were waiting for us.
The drive over to Lahaina took about an hour. This drive can sometimes be longer, but the island is so quiet right now that there was nothing to slow us down. The road that runs along the south west side of the island is currently only open from 6:00am to 10:00pm. Further, access to the burn zone of the town is forbidden as the search for remains continues, and those roads are guarded by National Guard soldiers.
We approached Lahaina Gateway, a shopping mall which had escaped fire damage, via the bypass. This road circles a part of the town from above, before dropping down to Lahaina Gateway. Although still at quite a distance from the town, the fire damage was clear to see. The bus that I was on, although quiet because of the early hour, fell quieter. A wire fence to the side of the bypass had become a make shift memorial, yellow ribbons tied to it.
It was a hot day, very hot. Initially I found the scale of the operation to be overwhelming. In just seeing the amount donated, the number of people involved in distributing the goods (many more people were already there when we arrived from the north shore), and when we opened at 10:00am, the number of cars driving by to collect donations. Two further food stations provided cooked meals for those coming in for supplies as well as those volunteering. Even popsicles were available early afternoon! Carts went by the volunteer stations at regular intervals with cold water. Another went by with cold, wet face cloths to help volunteers cool off. It was a day of giving, the generosity coming from all sides. And this is something that has been going on in some shape or form since the fires struck. The whole process, run by volunteers for the most part, ran very smoothly.
There was little time for a break, there being a steady stream of cars feeding their way past the stations. However, at one point I stepped back and found myself thinking - a few weeks ago these people were living their lives, just like me. Now they were relying on the generosity of strangers for the necessities of life. It was all very humbling and sobering. I was pleased that I was there.
About an hour and a half before we were due to wrap up for the day, news came through of a bush fire about 5 miles up the road in Ka’anapali. The decision was made to wind down proceedings and get ready to evacuate. By the time that the site was cleared and the bus had arrived, news came through that the fire was contained. However, in light of what had happened three weeks ago, I believe that the caution was well placed.
It was not until I got home that I realized how tired I was, especially my legs. I had been standing for most of the day, and that heat was energy sapping. Much to reflect on. Much to be grateful for. Much to be humbled by.
Lahaina is very much in the news, and quite rightly so. But let us not forget that on that night of August 8th, fires had also been burning on the east side of the island. With water still not safe to use for washing as well as drinking, in Lahaina as well as Upcountry Maui, we had some friends come down on Saturday night to take showers and have dinner. They had had to evacuate on August 8th, but thankfully were able to return to their home. Listening to their stories of the Upcountry fire, my wife and I drove up there yesterday evening. Woodlands that we had driven by on many occasions were scorched. We saw some houses that had been burnt down. At least one road was closed for all except residents. And there again were the volunteers, handing out free dinners for the Upcountry community.