Maui wildfire survivor recounts harrowing experience hiding behind beach drywall
"I can honestly say I've been through hell and back."
A longtime Lahaina resident said he's "been through hell and back" after he and dozens of his neighbors raced through the deadly wildfires that struck the island, as they waited in the water near the shore for hours before they were rescued.
Denny Yuckert, who has lived in the town for 15 years, told ABC News people were dying right next to him as he endured smoke, toxins and flaming embers during the four-hour wait for first responders. Yuckert, who said he suffered slight burns to his neck, hands and arms, said he didn't think he was going to make it either.
"I even made a video and said my goodbyes to my loved ones, to my family," he told ABC News.
Yuckert said he and other drivers got stuck in a traffic jam while driving away from the fire last week. He said the situation got more intense as the flames kept getting closer and ravaged nearby homes.
Ultimately, he said he and other drivers got out of their vehicles and got over a drywall that separated the shore from the rest of the street. All around them, flames ripped through houses, trees and even the abandoned vehicles on the road.
"It was burning to the south. It was burning to the north, and it was coming downhill right at us," Yuckert said.
Yuckert said it was hard to breathe because of the smoke and toxins in the air from the explosions.
For nearly five hours he and two dozen others waited behind the drywall, trying to breathe in whatever clean air they could find and using nearby blankets to shield themselves from the flames.
"Every time I breathed in, I almost choked to death because it was so bitter, just bites your throat," he said.
Firefighters eventually reached the people hiding behind the drywall and led them to safety.
Yuckert said he was devastated at how fast the fire burned through the historic town, which he called his "happy place," and was pessimistic about its future.
"I'll never see Lahaina built back up in my lifetime. There's just no possible way," he said. It's just devastating."