Firefighter says Lahaina fire ‘looked like Armageddon’


Malaya Harbor, Hawaii – The Wind fed The wildfires ravaging Lahaina, the deadliest US wildfire in recent history, “looked like Armageddon,” said Maui firefighter Aina Koehler.

“It all happened very quickly,” she said. “The wind was the loudest I’ve ever felt on Maui, in my life or anywhere in my life. And everything happened so fast.”

Part of what happened in the fire Tuesday that devastated the city of Lahaina, a city of about 12,000 in western Maui, was the lack of a vital resource: water.

“We ran out of water,” she said in an interview on Monday. “We’re on an island, with a limited supply. And that’s what we all talk about all the time, our limited resources.”

Wildfire wreckage is on display Thursday, August 10, 2023 in Lahaina, Hawaii. Currently, the Maui wildfire is the fifth deadliest wildfire in the country, according to research from the National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit organization that publishes firefighting codes and standards used in the United States and around the world. (Rick Bomer/AP)

Koehler and her husband, Johnny Varona, also a firefighter, live in Lahaina, and their home was among the thousands lost in the fire.

Koehler was on duty that day and worked on the Lahaina fire, while Varona was home with their children.

“Everything that could go, that came into play, that would potentially limit our resources, our aid, our town, happened,” Koller said. “And there were some things — a lot of things — that were out of our control.”

Varuna, at home with the children, could tell the fire was serious.

“I saw the smoke and knew it wasn’t good – the colors and the crackle from it were explosions,” Varuna said. “I knew they were structures, so I knew to take my kids and get out of there.”

Varuna went to the fire station to see if someone could take his children so that he could help too. “Everyone was out. Everyone said.”

Koehler said that as firefighters battled the Lahaina Fire that day, her thoughts focused on: “Where can we stop it? Where can we cut it?”

“With such high winds, you want to predict — well, we can stop it here, let’s take a stand here. That’s what everyone was thinking,” she said.

Kohler said information about what caught fire was coming in very quickly. Officials said it had winds of more than 60 miles per hour.

Koehler said she saw “people running for their lives, people being carried out, people being rescued, people being stuck. The power lines were already down before the fire.”

Koehler said the fire in Lahaina broke out at the worst possible time. She said half of the resources were on the other side of the island battling another wildfire, the Kola fire.

Koehler said wind was a major factor. High winds battered the island as Hurricane Dora, a Category 4 storm, passed south of Hawaii, officials said.

The fact that the water pressure was low could be explained by the fact that the fire destroyed several homes, Varuna said, causing the system to open, though he said he didn’t know why.

“I want to be mad about something,” Koller said. But she stopped herself.

“Focusing on the positive is what I need to do.”

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