homepage logo

Kaua‘ula Valley residents seek Maui Fire Department report about devastating fire

By Staff | Dec 13, 2018

LAHAINA – The soot may have settled, with the ash swept away, but the memories of the early morning hours of Aug. 24 when Hurricane Lane blazed through the hillsides of Lahaina will not be forgotten.

For Yolanda Dizon and her family living in Kaua’ula Valley, it was a nightmare experience.

“My family almost died as we ran from our homes, in the dark of midnight, while the hurricane winds of Lane swept the fire, chasing us off of our property,” she described.

Dizon lives on a 3.5-acre estate on kuleana lands. There are nine homes on the property, with about 50 living in the compound. Her son, David, wife Samantha and their two children reside close by her house where she lives with her two daughters.

“The winds were howling. Everybody was sleeping; it was almost midnight,” Yolanda recalled.

“I smelled smoke,” she remembered. “So I look out the window; I don’t see nothing. It’s black outside.”

Hurricane conditions camouflaged the real danger – what both David and Yolanda called, “The wall of fire!”

David was vivid in his recollection.

“My mom alerted me that our cousins came up to let us know that there was smoke from behind our house. So we started to scramble to grab whatever water hoses that were nearby and instantly tried to water down the area in the back of the house.

“Ten minutes later,” David observed, “we saw a wall of fire… heading towards us. Due to the wind direction and the force, it was coming at us so fast that five minutes later, it was five yards away from us. We realized by that time we had to get out as fast as we could, because our lives were in danger. It was either run or die,” David added.

The devastation was real; the fire was hungry.

One neighbor clocked the winds at 90 miles per hour.

“It took ten minutes to consume all the homes,” Yolanda cried.

“Within an hour, it was already down to the highway, and it was moving toward Lahainaluna Road,” David said.

The scattered families gathered together behind the Boys and Girls Club at Lahaina Recreation Center.

“I was so relieved to see all of them and happy we all made it out alive,” David remarked.

With “excruciating painful” burns to her arms and legs, Yolanda was ambulanced to Maui Memorial Medical Center.

“I was in total shock; I was hurting,” she confided.

Approximately 1,500 acres burned, with 21 structures experiencing damages along with 17 vehicles.

In a Maui Fire Department press release, Deputy Chief Lionel Montalvo summarized, “The conditions we encountered from the onset until final containment is unprecedented in our department’s history. Through valiant effort and bravery, a lot of lives and property were saved. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have lost as a result of this fire.”

Unfortunately, “eleven homes in Kaua’ula Valley were burnt to the ground,” a devastated Samantha Dizon noted.

“The 11 homes and everything in them all burned to the ground – vehicles, pets, everything that our families couldn’t save while trying to save their lives were gone,” she told the Lahaina News.

That horrific night was experienced over three months ago, but the nightmares remain. The fires may have been contained. Nobody challenges the herculean efforts of our first responders; they literally saved Lahaina. However, on the administrative side of the department, questions have been raised.

It’s been over 90 days, and a Fire Investigation Report from the Fire Prevention Bureau has not been issued.

Admittedly, county officials were forthcoming in answering a number of the questions the community had; however, with no substantiating facts about the cause or location of ground zero, valley residents were skeptical.

In the aftermath, with smoke still in the air, fire investigators and police officers canvassed the community; now, the community and Lahaina News want to see the results of their inspection.

Rylan Yatsushiro, fire services chief, responded in an e-mail dated Nov. 7: “Requests for fire reports can be placed by filling out the application located on the County of Maui website: mauicounty.gov>Government>Fire & Public Safety>Fire Incident Report Request Form.”

The Lahaina News assumed, wrongly, that a fire report was available and filed for a copy.

There were others eager to receive the county analysis as well – 14 members of the Kaua’ula Valley ‘ohana to be exact – and they filled out the request forms.

With these applications in hand, Yolanda and Ke’eaumoku Kapu went to the Office of the Fire Chief on Dairy Road in Kahului and submitted them to Deputy Fire Chief Bradford Ventura, face-to-face, on Nov. 26.

They learned there was no report.

David was stunned by the news.

“It is so important for us to have the report, so that our families and the entire West Maui community are aware of what can happen during an unforeseen catastrophic fire,” David said.

He had lots of questions.

“What caused it? How can it be prevented from happening again? Was it an electric line or a transformer that caused it? Could it have been a mischievous person? Did someone hire someone to start the fire? Was the MFD paid off to not tell the community of what happened? These are just some the questions that we’ve been approached by so many people, and the only honest answer we give them is, ‘We don’t know.’

“This isn’t the first time a fire broke out in the Kaua’ula/Launiupoko area. We need to prevent this from happening again; and, if this report can help us do so, then we should be able to have it,” he continued.

“Our kids still have nightmares. When we see smoke from a distance, it triggers back to that morning. This will ease our worries if we could receive the investigative report.”

In response, Ventura updated the community last week in a Dec. 3 e-mail to Lahaina News: “As I mentioned to you on the phone, one of the investigators should return from a family trip today, and I prompted them to please make an effort to get it done. They will work on it this week, and then it will go to Corporation Counsel for redacting and review. It will be released after that.”