Donated RVs are arriving on Maui to serve as temporary housing for affected firefighter families.

Maui firefighters found themselves overwhelmed and lacking resources as they fought a losing battle against the Lahaina fire, Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association said Wednesday.

He made the comment at a press conference announcing that RVs donated from the mainland are headed to Maui to help house firefighters and their families who lost their homes Aug. 8.

Lee said firefighters have told him that hydrants stopped working during one stage of the blaze.

“It’s disheartening because there’s really nothing you can do at that point,” he said. “At that point, it’s more survival and just trying to help whoever’s around and trying to get people out. You’re basically now on a defense plan because you have no offense.”

Hawaii Fire Fighters Association Local 1463 secretary treasurer Aaron Lenchanko, from left, and president Bobby Lee speak during a press conference Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Honolulu. California Fire Foundation, EmergencyRV and Los Angeles County Fire Fighters Local 1014 donated five RV (recreation vehicle) trailer homes to Maui firefighters who lost their homes in the Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfire. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, said firefighters are “humbled” by the donations of RVs and other support arriving on Maui. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Firefighters didn’t have the resources to extinguish the blaze, so they turned their attention to rescuing people while the fire continued to burn until it ran out of fuel. 

“It wasn’t extinguished,” he said. “It just burns until there’s nothing left to burn, which is why it went all the way to the water, it jumped on the boats, and there was nothing left to burn.”

Lee said 19 firefighter homes were destroyed. One belonged to two firefighters who are married. In total, 16 children are also affected.

Two firefighters were injured while on duty, and one is still in the hospital, Lee said. The wife of one retired firefighter died in the fire. He and another retiree were also injured, and both lost their homes.

Five mobile homes are expected to arrive on Aug. 30, and at least three more will arrive in early September, according to the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association. An additional nine have been confirmed, but their arrival date has not yet been determined.

Five of the mobile homes were donated by firefighters in Los Angeles County, according to DeeDee Garcia, spokeswoman for the California Fire Foundation. 

Photographs of the trailers donated by the California Fire Foundation are on display at the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association Local 1463 press conference Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Honolulu. California Fire Foundation, EmergencyRV and Los Angeles County Fire Fighters Local 1014 donated five RV (recreation vehicle) trailer homes to Maui firefighters who lost their homes in the Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfire. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Eight donated RVs are being shipped from California to Maui to house displaced firefighters and their families. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

The other RVs were procured by the Colorado-based nonprofit, EmergencyRV, which was founded by Woody Faircloth after the 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise, California. After seeing the devastation of that fire on TV, Faircloth and his daughter raised money to buy an RV and deliver it to a family in need, according to the organization’s website.

Since then, the organization has been dedicated to bringing RVs to victims of wildfires and other natural disasters. Faircloth and his daughter towed one donated mobile home from Colorado to San Diego so it could be shipped to Maui.

The cost of shipping the RVs from California to Hawaii was offset by cargo transport company Pasha Hawaii, Garcia said. 

The interior of one of the RVs being donated to house displaced firefighters on Maui. (Courtesy of Hawaii Fire Fighters Association)

Funds to support Maui firefighters were being raised through the California Fire Foundation because the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association was in the midst of setting up a statewide nonprofit organization when the disaster struck. Until the statewide organization is finalized, funds raised directly by the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association can only go to support Honolulu.

The donated RVs range in size from 10-12 feet to 20 feet. Some will be parked on properties of firefighters’ family members or friends. A plot of land where multiple RVs can be parked is in the process of being donated. Lee said he did not know if special arrangements were being made for families with children who are in school.

Most of the responder families have been staying with friends or relatives since their homes were destroyed, he said. 

Flames that tore through Lahaina were fueled by 60-mile-per-hour wind gusts, causing a blaze that Lee likened to a “blowtorch.” Crews were overwhelmed from the beginning as fires also burned in Upcountry and South Maui. 

Lee stressed that crew members who responded to the fires will need to look out for one another’s mental health in the weeks and months ahead.

Once immediate needs in Lahaina subside, Lee said he hopes to sit down with fire chiefs from all the islands to talk about what happened and what they can learn going forward.

In the meantime, receiving support like the donated RVs is helping to lift firefighters’ spirits. 

“It’s just nice and humbling to see the support that’s coming from not just within our state but also outside of our state,” he said. 

Other organizations are also stepping up to help shelter displaced people.

Maui nonprofit Family Life Center flew 60 prefab homes from Hungary to house families affected by the fires. Residents previously staying in Red Cross shelters around the island were recently transferred to hundreds of hotel rooms.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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