Those who died included store employees, a janitorial service worker and a pair of dishwashers who worked hard to take care of their families, friends recalled.

Eight members of a single Filipino family have been confirmed dead and one remains missing since the Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfires – a loss that has devastated their loved ones as well as the town’s close-knit Filipino community.

One of the women lived in Lahaina for decades and brought many of her relatives to Hawaii from the Philippines. They worked in retail, food service, hospitality and other fields and were described by those who knew them as cheerful, kind people who loved their family.

The Maui Police Department on Tuesday identified six of the victims as Felimon Quijano, 61; Luz Bernabe, 64; Joel Villegas, 55; Adela Villegas, 53; Angelica Baclig, 31 and Junmark Quijano, 30. The other two family members Salvador Coloma, 77; and Glenda Yabes, 48; had been identified previously.

The ninth, Lydia Coloma, is still on the FBI’s official list of people who remain unaccounted for.

The memorial for Lahaina Fire victims has grown from a simple line of white crosses secured to the fence line to those same crosses now endowed with lei, photographs of loved ones and flags representing the victims country of origin. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Lahaina’s Filipino population, which made up about 40% of the town before the wildfires killed at least 97 people and displaced thousands more, is intimately connected, community leaders say. Every loss, especially one of this magnitude, is difficult to bear.

“To know that so many in the same family have perished, I think it will affect the community quite hard,” said Eric Arquero, a pastor at Koinonia Pentecostal Church, which serves a majority Filipino congregation. “I know it’s going to add to the sorrow and the sadness and the mourning that’s going on here.”

Immigrating To Maui

Luz Bernabe was one of the first of her family members to arrive on the Valley Isle from Sinait, a city in the province of Ilocos Sur in the north of the Philippines, Arquero said.

He didn’t know exactly when she arrived, but by the time his family immigrated to Maui in 1987, she was already there. 

“I just remember her being here since I was a child,” he said. 

Bernabe worked at Nagasako General Store in Old Lahaina Center on Wainee Street, said Mila Lat, a friend who arrived on Maui from the Philippines in 1991. The store was destroyed in the fire, the friend said.

Bernabe then petitioned many of her family members to come to Hawaii, and they lived together in an old plantation house somewhere in the area of Lahainaluna Road, Lat said. 

“She’s a very jolly person,” she said. “She always had something to tell you, and friendly. She knows a lot of people. She’s telling you this and that, this and that. So I just listened to her.”

Lydia Coloma worked at Foodland Lahaina, Lat said. Her husband, Salvador, worked at PWC Hawaii, a janitorial services company, according to his Facebook page. 

From left to right, Kevin Baclig is shown with four of the victims, including his wife Angelica Quijano Baclig, Joel Villegas, Adela Villegas and Junmark Quijano. (Screenshot from GoFundMe)

Relatives either declined to be interviewed when reached by phone or did not return Facebook messages requesting comment. But a GoFundMe page organized by Oliva Coloma described Lydia and Salvador Coloma as her parents; Luz Bernabe, Felimon Quijano, Adela Villegas and Joel Villegas as aunts and uncles; and Glenda Yabes, Junmark Quijano and Angelica Quijano as cousins.

She also said that on Sept. 20, DNA for seven of the family members was still in the process of being sent from the Philippines to the FBI and Maui Police Department to help with identification. 

Alana Pico, spokeswoman for the Maui Police Department, wrote in an email that she could not comment on specific cases, but said Dr. Jeremy Stuelpnagel, a pathologist with Maui County, has discussed the complexities of performing autopsies and positively identifying those who died in the fires. Stuelpnagel said during a press conference on Sept. 15 that many remains were extremely fragmented and some were commingled with others. That day, the official death toll dropped from 115 to 97.

‘They Showed Up Every Day With A Smile On Their Face’

Joel Villegas and Felimon Quijano were dishwashers at Fleetwood’s on Front Street, a restaurant and bar that was also destroyed in the fire

“They both worked extremely hard to really take care of their families,” said Paul Maloney, executive sous chef at the restaurant. “They came in, the kitchen’s super hot, no AC. They showed up every day with a smile on their face, ready to rock and roll.” 

Quijano would arrive to work on a moped wearing a backward cap, and his tendency to clock in two hours before his shift became a running joke among the kitchen crew, Maloney said.

Maloney wasn’t sure exactly how long each had worked at the restaurant but said Quijano was there first and around six months ago recommended Villegas, who was his brother-in-law, for a job.

On days when Quijano couldn’t make it into work, instead of calling to let a supervisor know, he would just send Villegas in to cover for him, Maloney said.

Villegas spoke excellent English and was a fast learner with a great work ethic.

“I was trying to snatch up Joel and talk him into being a cook,” he said. “He said, ‘No, I’m OK boss. I’m good, happy where I’m at.'”

Kevin Baclig, whose wife Angelica Baclig died, did not return calls seeking comment. On Facebook, he shared many pictures of his wife and wrote about how much he missed her. 

“I wish I could wrap my arms around you, kiss and hug you tightly so you can feel the beat of my lonely heart,” he wrote on Aug. 21. “My day is not the same without you.”

Around 5,100 Filipinos lived in Lahaina before the fires, and the community has been heavily impacted by the devastation, leaders say. 

So far, eight Filipino citizens have been confirmed among the fire victims and 17 others had ties to the country, Emil Fernandez, Hawaii’s consul general for the Philippines, wrote in an email on Wednesday. Some of the 17 were recently naturalized U.S. citizens, he wrote. Fernandez didn’t provide names.

Close-Knit Community

The consulate helped nearly 300 Filipinos this month with replacement of passports and financial assistance, he wrote. The office is still coordinating with authorities on the collection of DNA from relatives of victims and missing people in the Philippines. 

Nearly 2,800 people attended a Filipino resource fair hosted by the Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce on Saturday at the Lahaina Civic Center, said Kit Zulueta Furukawa, director of the chamber. 

“So many people still needed to sign up for FEMA, and some of them were just coming out for the first time,” she said. “That was the whole intent of the fair, was to make them comfortable asking for help.”

Arquero said his church serves 400 to 500 meals every Monday night mainly to Filipino families seeking comfort dishes from their home country like chicken adobo and Bicol Express, a type of spicy pork stew. 

“The Filipino community here in Lahaina is very connected,” he said. “We’re very intertwined with each other. If you know someone, then you probably can identify what clan they belong to, what family clan, or if they belong to a church or an organization. I think there’s a great sense of pride in the Filipino community.” 

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

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