Lahaina resident says 'nothing left but ashes' as community rallies around each other

Stephanie Evans' family lost their home to the deadly wildfires.

August 14, 2023, 5:01 PM

Devastating wildfires that erupted on the Hawaiian island of Maui last week have claimed the lives of at least 96 people. Many more are still missing, according to authorities. Officials on Maui have said that the death toll is expected to rise as they work to contain the active blazes and assess the damage.

The blazes erupted on Aug. 8 and spread rapidly due to very dry conditions stemming from a drought combined with powerful winds. Much of the historic town of Lahaina has been "destroyed," officials said, and the inferno has burned thousands of residential and commercial buildings to the ground.

Stephanie Evans, a Lahaina resident and mother of two whose family lost their home to the wildfires, spoke to ABC News' Elizabeth Schulze about what led up to her family's escape and how the community has rallied around each other in its aftermath.

ELIZABETH SHULZE: As we heard, residents are now being allowed to return to their properties there. Will you go? How are you preparing for what you might see?

STEPHANIE EVANS: I think I decided I am going to go today. They open the road at noon, which is in like 30 minutes. I’m just nervous. I know there's nothing left but ashes. But I left my cats there, so I just want to go back and see if they're around.

SHULZE: If you can, and I can't imagine the pain you feel right now, but can you take us through the past couple of days for you, to Tuesday night when those fires broke out? When did you realize you needed to evacuate? How fast did everything happen?

EVANS: You know, it was crazy because that morning, they had said the fires were contained. We smelled smoke. We went outside. I talked to my neighbors, and we were like, “Are we OK?” And they were like, “Yeah, the news reported it was 100% contained within like 30 minutes.” So we were like, “We're good.”

My mom thankfully brought my kids back. She had taken them for ice cream, just trying to keep them busy, because the winds were making power lines fall. We had no power. She was just trying to keep them busy, and thank God she brought them back when she did, because it was a matter of like 20 minutes of being all together, where we started smelling smoke again.

But this time it was different, because you could see the embers falling and this smoke came in so quick. I didn't have time to think. I just grabbed the kids, and my purse and we just jumped in the car and left. I thought we were leaving for like a few hours. I thought we would come back once it was contained again.

I didn't think I was evacuating for good, you know?

PHOTO: Maui resident Stephanie Evans talks about escaping the fires in Lahaina that destroyed her family's home.
Maui resident Stephanie Evans talks about escaping the fires in Lahaina that destroyed her family's home.
ABC News

SCHULZE: You have two sons, a 5-year-old and a 9-year-old. How are you explaining to them what's going on right now? What was that moment when you had to take them and go?

EVANS: I just was like, “It's real. We've got to get out of here.” And you know, of course, my kids are kids. You know, they were like, “I want my shoes.” They’re basketball players. They just wanted their little things. I let him grab one thing, and I'm just like, I just knew it was – something in me said it was different this time.

And I was just like, “We just have to go now.” My oldest son has some asthma, and I just didn't want him breathing that in. So I didn't really know we had lost our entire homes until about 9 o’clock Tuesday night. We got a text from my neighbor who's a firefighter, actually, and he said, “Everything's gone.” And so I just fell to the ground.

I wanted to be strong for them, but in that moment, I just started weeping. And they just, you know, they were there for me. It was, should have been the opposite. But they really are really resilient. Kids are so strong, and so I'm so thankful that they're alive. There's a lot of kids that are not alive right now.

SCHULZE: And I'm so thankful that you and your sons are safe through this horrible tragedy. We have heard many heartwarming stories of community coming together. Talk a little bit about how crucial this community has been for you in these past couple of days, Stephanie.

PHOTO: Destroyed homes and vehicles are seen in a neighborhood, Aug. 13, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii, following a deadly wildfire that caused heavy damage days earlier.
Destroyed homes and vehicles are seen in a neighborhood, Aug. 13, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii, following a deadly wildfire that caused heavy damage days earlier.
Rick Bowmer/AP

EVANS: It's life changing for all of us, because it's not just me, it's my neighbors. It's our basketball coach – he lives in our neighborhood. He's still running practice today. Like, he's like, “We're in this together.” They’re all going to show up for the boys today with new shoes and people from the mainland sending the kids clothes, you know?

We went to a card store, just he loves collecting cards. We just went there, and he just was like, “My house burned down. I don’t have any cards.” They just gave him so much stuff. It's heartwarming because as a mom, you have to keep going for your kids. You can't really stop parenting and being there, and they don't really get the severity of it. So being able to have everyone support me, so I can support them is just everything.

And just seeing the community, we really are so strong. Lahaina is such a tight-knit community. Our school is gone, the kids’ school, and that's a huge community for me. And so we've been rallying behind each other and just trying to help one another. What do you need? What can we do? You know, do you need housing? People don't have places to live. I'm so thankful and grateful that I have a roof over my head right now.

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