Jennifer Simpson
29 min readAug 21, 2023


2 Weeks on Maui. August 2023.

The south end of Lahaina, Maui, HI. August 6. 2023.

I landed back in Colorado from Maui just before 6AM on August 19th, 2023.

My partner, Alex, and I arrived with a handful of other weary travelers on an almost empty flight, after spending 2 weeks on the island during the most devastating wildfire in US history.

This is a first hand account of my own experience and how it did and is still affecting me and my loved ones personally. It is also an invitation to anyone reading this to both lean in to support the very real and immediate needs of Maui residents right now, and to look closer to home at how ready your own communities are for the dramatic, wholesale destruction of life and livelihood that comes with wildly ahistoric weather patterns.

There’s no good way to strike just the right tone for every ear in telling a story like the one that follows. One of the challenges of mass events is that they impact so very many people in extremely unique and specific ways.

This story starts off sounding more like an oblivious tourist than I’d like, but I know it sounds that way, and I’m still telling it like that to underscore how “normal” everything seemed, how little warning there was, until it was much too late.

Here’s how it all began for us:

An August Vacation!

We didn’t get a single group photo before the fires. This was taken ~36 hours beforehand.

The trip came together quickly and a little unexpectedly. Sometime just before the 4th of July, I saw a little window of opportunity to get away and began organizing an early August trip to Maui. Alex’s brother, Erik, has lived in Lahaina and run a business there for 40 years and there were a number of good reasons to visit him now. I had way too much accrued vacation time after steering a small business through the pandemic and really, really needed a break.

I’d also been looking for a way to spend a little summer vacation time with my two teenagers (Martin, 18, was home from Drexel for the summer, Helyn, 15, was about to start 10th grade). They’d both had first jobs all summer and there hadn’t been much time to play or visit in any leisurely way.

I was hungry for that.

I quickly got excited as I planned a fun trip for four for the first week at a condo in Lahaina, followed by a more relaxed second week where the kids would fly home and leave us to explore the North Shore and visit more closely with Alex’s family back in Lahaina at the end of the trip.

I’d never really had a break like this and after several years of big changes and major life disruptions, the thought of two weeks of “real vacation” was exhilarating. I was probably very annoying to the people around me in the weeks leading up to the trip as I caught myself gushing at the thought of two languid weeks with nothing much to do. My team was in great shape, I was sure I’d be able to really disconnect, and was oh-so-ready.

Little did we know that we would land in Lahaina less than 48 hours before the deadliest wildfire in the US in more than a century.

We escaped about an hour ahead of the blaze and feel a big mix of gratitude for everyone who helped keep us safe, relief that we weren’t more directly and personally physically injured, and heartbreak at how many weren’t so lucky.

If I let myself linger too long on the details and specifics of the day, or consider the accumulation of system failures that turned a wind storm into a blazing inferno in a busy commercial and residential area, I can get pretty mad.

I spend most of my life trying to help people build more resilient systems and what I saw all around me was how badly brittle things break when things get bad. When systems lack empathy and resilience, they fail hard.

I also have mixed feelings about telling my story here at all–there are thousands and thousands of stories to tell, and mine is in no way more important than any of those, but the timing of so many things that contributed to our safe escape, and the unique vantage point from many parts of the island we have had over these last two weeks, and the ongoing dire need people are experiencing, have me also feel urgency to do what I can to increase visibility and point people in the direction of how to help.

I lived this story up close and feel responsible for sharing it.

I also don’t have the personal emotional energy to retell the story again and again — at least not some of the more raw details, but writing this has been both cathartic and clarifying.

Now, I want to focus on what can be done to help prevent other disasters like this one. I am getting too good at navigating close calls, and this was not just a natural disaster. It was a multi-pronged systems’ failure on many levels and a lot of other communities are no better prepared than Lahaina was.

Read my story, and then be a part of the solution wherever you are.

If you take the time to read this all the way through, thank you for being interested. Please show your support in whatever way you can.

If we can work together to make a difference somehow, be in touch.

If you don’t make it to the end, please still support The Hawaii Community Foundation here.

Three Things That Made All the Difference

Three unexpected changes of plans happened just before we left that proved pivotal on the day of the fires: first, rather than staying further north, nearer family, or closer to Front Street (where one could walk to everything more conveniently), we stumbled a little out-of-the-blue on a one-of-its-kind condo available in the Puamana area on the far south side of town. Second, we changed our snorkeling excursion date from Wednesday the 9th to Tuesday the 8th just a few days before we left Colorado, and third, about 12 hours before we left I got a call from the fine folks at Island EV telling me that the all-electric vehicle I had reserved was unavailable and I’d be in a plug-in hybrid. I started to protest briefly and then had this overwhelming sense that there was good reason to have the other car and I should just say Mahalo and be happy with it. So I did.

Those three seemingly insignificant events probably saved our lives.

Arrival. August 6–7, 2023

If you have never been to Maui, it’s hard to overstate how beautiful it is. Magical, majestic ocean vistas in one direction, soaring lush mountains in the other. The massive Haleakala volcano overshadowing it all. Blue seas as far as the eye can see, often to multiple horizons at once. Tropical plants brighter than you can imagine and tropical fruit that tastes exactly perfect sold at roadside stands by local farmers. The flight into the island was easy, the car was working out great, the weather was ideal. I could almost feel the Aloha seeping into my bones as I exhaled.

Lanai from Puamana Beach.
Looking east toward Pu’u Kukui from Puamana

I had been to the islands several times before, but it had been a decade since I’d been back and I remembered almost immediately what I have always loved, admired, and respected about the history, culture, and spirit of the place. It was a salve to the soul.

We arrived at our Puamana condo on Sunday evening and immediately found it to be everything we’d hoped. Quiet, comfortable. Easy access to a lovely stretch of private beach. An ocean-side infinity pool and others scattered around the grounds. A pickleball court a few yards from our door. It wasn’t a way of life I was especially accustomed to, but it was like stepping through a little window out of time and into a different world. I walked around for a day just letting my breath be taken away, ready to rest.

It also felt like a place where the four of us could easily enjoy ourselves both together and apart for the week. Where the teens could have some independence and we could each find our own rhythm. I took a gazillion pictures of our surroundings in those first 36 hours because everything was just breathtaking and I was so glad to have what felt like it promised to be a real break.

On Monday, August 7th the kids wandered off on their own for a few hours to explore Front Street, and returned excited about how easy that would be to do from our place. My son bought himself a button-down shirt and knew just where he wanted to eat all week. My daughter thought maybe she caught sight of Jeff from Island EV as they wandered town. They were just two young people exploring their world a little bit.

We went to the beach and played in the pool and had dinner at the amazing food trucks that were ubiquitous around town. Alex played Pickleball at the Civic Center and met up with his brother at his store before we headed up to visit them north of town. We also ran around a little looking for an EV charger and couldn’t find a working one. The battery was already empty and the hybrid mode had kicked in. We stopped for some shave ice.

It both sounds ludicrous to me as I write that those were the things we had been preoccupied with the day before, and I’m acutely aware that those Monday drives all about town helped us learn the town quickly in a way that was a big help in orienting us the next day.

Monday afternoon I got a text from my mom back in Colorado asking how the winds were — she was already seeing reports of high wind and surf online — and I blithely replied “Not windy at all really. But totally gorgeous.”

As the day wore on, we knew there was a storm passing just off the islands and boats were beginning to cancel excursions, but it was mostly calm and beautiful.

That night before the fires the sky was crystal clear and dense with stars–one of those nights where you could see deep into the Milky Way. We sat out on the back deck looking at the endless starry sky and feeling so grateful and blessed to be living this life. We lingered out there for a long time, soaking it all in and feeling a little thrill as the winds started to pick up just a bit, it felt exciting and enlivening; not at all scary.

Tuesday, August 8

The next morning we woke up early, having booked a snorkeling trip to the Molokini Crater and found that the power was out.

Originally, I’d booked a trip on a smaller boat, with fewer people and more stops for the following day, but my son wasn’t super excited about snorkeling and so I moved us to a larger boat with a slide and a viewing platform that would have more for him to do. They didn’t have Wednesday excursions available by the time I made the change so Tuesday was our day. The weather report said it might be the windier day that week, but there was no mention of impending storm or indication that conditions might be anything more than a little choppier than usual.

We hadn’t yet had a notice that our trip was canceled when we got up and the bigger boat and relative protection of the crater we’d be swimming in had us think all must still be well, so we got up and organized ourselves for the day. It was windier out, and there were fallen branches from trees already on the ground in some places but there were no news alerts or information that had us feel anything approaching worry or panic.

We didn’t receive any cautions to stay at home.

Despite the power outage we didn’t have much sense of the looming threat as we packed for the day. As soon as we tried to turn out of our neighborhood onto Honoapiilani Hwy (around 6:15 AM), we were turned around by a single stern police officer with ankle-high traffic cones. It looked like a power line might be down, but there was no information offered or guidance given other than “not this way.”

So, we drove out of Lahaina another way, north on Front Street and up to the Lahaina Bypass and made it to Ma’alea Harbor mostly on time. We passed police at multiple intersections, but they were mostly just directing traffic since the lights were out. No one ever said, “conditions are unsafe out here, go home.” I don’t know if they knew.

By now the coastal drive had us feeling a little skeptical about the strength of the wind and surf, and we already suspected our plans were about to change again as we arrived to find that the trip had indeed been canceled just minutes before.

Around that time we also got a call from Alex’s brother who confirmed that power was still out and that there was a small fire burning in town. No word on containment. “If you’re already out of Lahaina, best to stay out,” he said. It made sense, we could see the day would be a different one than we had planned, but still felt no fear or threat. So, we recalibrated our outing and put on an audiobook as we headed upcountry toward Haleakala National Park, figuring we’d drive up to the summit and give Lahaina time to fix downed poles and get things sorted, then head back around dinner time. We had reservations at Star Noodle on Front Street at 4 PM.

The imminent threat was not yet obvious and staying out of the way seemed like the best help we could be. I can’t underscore enough how long this day felt like it would “get back to normal” at any moment. We were mostly waiting for the winds to die down and the power to come back on.

On much of the island, power wasn’t even out.

As we worked our way uphill, though, we saw more downed power lines and started to hear word of an Upcountry fire, but still didn’t have any sense of what was unfolding. There were no emergency notices to our phones and efforts to get news via social outlets revealed very little, so on we went until part way up the volcano, we encountered an enormous fallen tree across the road. A car coming down was able to just barely drive around it and we considered for a minute attempting the maneuver in the opposite direction, but as I crossed the midline and assessed the situation, decided it was time to make a U-turn and regroup.

At this time it was hard to get any news about anything. Most news outlets were reporting nothing at all and cell service was starting to get spotty. We stopped in the little town of Makawao for a coffee and snack where the lights were on, cell service was good, and chickens roamed the streets eating bits of fallen breakfast. There, we decided together to head back to Lahaina. What reports we could find were generally unalarming, it seemed like the fire was small and being contained, and word was that the winds would die down soon, so we loaded back into the car, put our audio book back on, and headed back toward the west side of the island around 10 AM.

As we approached Lahaina, we were diverted onto the Bypass road, as we had been that morning, but this time, when we got into the center of town, we found the intersection at Keawe St and Honoapiilani Hwy also closed due to a traffic light that was being replaced. People were being turned around and sent back up the Bypass, creating horrible gridlock as all the cars trying to get anywhere on the island tried (mostly in vain) to funnel through Lahainaluna Rd. By now it was somewhere around 11 AM, though the timeline of the day is a little fuzzy.

We sat in traffic for a very long time, with the same tens of thousands of people in thousands of cars going round in a circle with only one exit and no signage or communication about where the exit was. The six miles of road along Front Street, up and down Keawe Pl, across the Bypass over to Hokiokio Pl, and up and down Lahainaluna was just jammed with all the cars that would fit on the roads for hours. Many of us did the loop a half dozen times or more unable to find an exit, receiving no other information than to turn around and going endlessly in circles.

I’m not sure anyone knew what to tell us.

Both the blue and grey shaded areas were clogged for hours before the fires broke out along with other stretches of Honoapiilani Hwy to the north and south.

There were many moments when we were at a standstill for tens of minutes at a time with tall retaining walls on either side of us and literally nowhere to run. There were many times when I felt that we were in a deeply unsafe situation, but none of the GPS maps were accurately showing what roads were open or closed as the situation changed so quickly and people were making thousands of uniformed and poorly coordinated choices about which way to turn. No one had enough of the right pieces of information to make well-coordinated decisions. We were all fending for ourselves and as communications failed, the problem got worse.

A lot has been reported about the lack of sirens being activated but the larger failure from the inside felt like the lack of any coordinated emergency cell phone messages. Most cell phones were still getting some service well into the beginning of the gridlock and just knowing where the exits were or what roads were closed would have made a world of difference. A stay at home order earlier in the day might have allowed rescue and repair crews to do their work more quickly and safely and for emergency personnel to respond to flare-ups.

That said, the cascade of incidents happened so fast that it felt like each event got handled individually site by site well beyond the point when a coordinated emergency response was needed. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine how one could have been mobilized much more quickly. By the time the crisis arrived, it was too late to plan, and it was very clear that no one had planned for whatever this was becoming.

We spent nearly three hours on Tuesday early afternoon getting turned around in circles at one intersection after the next. Finally, around 2PM we made it back onto Front St. We drove south this time past buildings already being buffeted by the winds and without power but all still standing. The kids pointed out shops they’d been to the day before or restaurants they were still hoping might fit into our plans. I pointed to the Banyan Tree as we drove by, hoping to be back soon and discussing its significance. We were still oblivious. We thought everything was going to be ok now.

Back at the condo everyone was tired from a day of being turned around and were just relieved to be home. It felt like the worst of it was over and we could just hunker down and wait out the windstorm. Without power the smart thing to do seemed to be to take a nap and we all crashed for about an hour. It was now very windy though and I didn’t feel entirely safe as the wind whipped the palm trees into a frenzy outside the windows on the deck I’d so enjoyed the day before. Restless, I got up around 3 or 3:30 and started putting together snacks that didn’t need to be cooked and mobilizing folks for a board game while we had daylight figuring that after dark there would be nothing to do but sleep.

I’d just started a game of Scrabble with my son when a stranger with a Salt and Pepper beard and a bright orange golf shirt pounded on the door alerting us to the now-encroaching fire. “The neighborhood next door is on fire. They’re telling people to get ready to evacuate,” he said before dashing off to knock on the neighbor’s door.

We’ve seen our share of too-close-to-home wildfire in Boulder, Colorado so when I told the kids to pack everything and be ready to go, they took one look out the window and said “ok.” We could already clearly see dark smoke billowing only a few blocks away.

We had everything in the car pretty quickly having, and while Alex and I waffled for a minute on whether to go or stay — knowing how bad the roads had already been just an hour earlier we weren’t actually sure how easy it would be to get out of town and worried about getting stuck in another horrible traffic jam or stranded in the car — my 15-year old daughter knew that the only answer to the “what should we do” question was “We GO.”

So, less than 20 minutes after that miraculous knock at the door, we were pulling through the open gates at Puamana, on the far south edge of town (closest to what was now the only “exit” out of town). Even with the from-nowhere advance warning, it took us another 30 minutes to inch our way onto Honoapiilani Hwy after turning right at the intersection you see in the photo below. Many who lived or were staying further north were already walking out on foot or were on bicycles, carrying what they could on their backs.

We were just far enough ahead of the flames that we didn’t appreciate the full extent of the destruction that was coming and just how close a call it had been (the neighborhood we were staying in did ultimately burn well beyond where our unit used to be). It would turn out to be days until any real news began getting out.

This is what we were driving into as we left our neighborhood.

Looking North on Pualoke Pl. Lahaina, HI. August 8, 2023.

It took an hour from the time of that knock to move the roughly two blocks from our unit to the highway and we were safely underway and headed south out of town with thousands of others. People who were 5 or 6 blocks away couldn’t move fast enough. As we left town, it was still daylight and hard to make out much of anything over our shoulders behind us as we went. It would be a long period of eerie silence until we had any real news.

Power lines were still down on the highway as we went and it was pretty clear that the safety of having the road open was only relative to the alternative at this point. On more than one occasion, I drove right over downed lines, hoping for the best, because there was nowhere else to go.

As we left, we were also furiously sorting out where to go next. With my daughter working Priceline from the back seat we were able to get a room at the Days Inn in Kihei for two nights.

We still hoped we would be coming “home” to Lahaina soon.

Sun Setting Over a Smoke-filled West Maui Sky. Kihei, HI. Aug. 8, 2023

A few hours later, we stood and watched the sunset from the Kihei shore in a state of bewilderment as the smoke bellowing up from West Maui turned the sun crimson. Cell service went down just as we were leaving town and once we were gone, there was no news other than what we could see with our own eyes, or cobble together from the stories of others who had escaped.

The life-saver who knocked on our door turned out to be a proactive property manager at the Puamana property who also went up and down adjacent neighborhoods alerting people until he was forced to leave himself. For us, he had shown up out of the blue and bought us real, life-saving time (Thank you Paul Brown!). The early snorkeling trip had meant we’d spent the whole day all together instead of being scattered to the winds ourselves in a way that would have made evacuating much harder. The hybrid car meant we were able to just go and didn’t become stranded in the gridlock. These three unexpected, last-minute changes of plans made a world of difference.

Everyone we talked to for days to come had these examples–in both directions. Sliding door moments where a hunch was followed, or ignored, or where some twist of events made the difference between life and death. Maybe that is mostly our human impulse to make sense from the senseless, but those were the stories people told. We still didn’t know what was happening and needed some way to put the pieces together. We wondered about the people whose help had clearly saved us.

The Aftermath.

Our foursome was able to scramble to find new places to stay in Kihei on the South Shore until we could get the kids out for the mainland safely on Saturday the 12th. Those four days were surreal as the town filled with evacuees filling every hotel room and shelter space. Everyone in town, it seemed, had fled the fires or knew people who had. Most were a little in shock and none of us really knew what was going on. Cell service was still bad, the internet and power were still out on most of West Maui and for days the effort was on ensuring the fire was out and on rescuing any survivors.

For the most part I observed kindness, and compassion, and generosity from people in all directions. There was little patience for anyone acting like it was a problem that their island getaway was being disrupted. We could all feel the devastation for the community itself and the people of Lahaina. But many of us were also displaced to strange spaces and/or crowded into close quarters. Lots of people had not had time to gather things. Some were missing people or separated from loved ones.

For the first few days on the other side of the island, news spread by word of mouth when someone got a hold of a relative or found a social site that had begun to become reliable for accurate updates. There was a palpable mourning and grief for Lahaina, especially as more grim details began to emerge on Thursday and Friday and so many of us recognized how bad it had gotten, how close we had come. And we mostly filled the beaches quietly as we looked to clear our heads and make sense of what surviving something like this means.

Looking out over West Maui from Kihei Aug 9, 2023.
Siblings Sitting in the Sand. Kihei, HI Aug 9, 2023.

There was a little splashing in the surf as people reached for some lightness of being. The kids who’d been so independent a few days before sat quietly side-by-side and played half-heartedly in the sand. We watched the turtles play in the waves along the sea wall, and felt awe at Maui’s immense beauty while our hearts were also breaking.

We dropped off donations to relief centers and supported those who were more directly impacted as we could while also giving evacuation teams and first responders and the hundreds of electrical crew who flew in within hours from all over the country space and doing everything we could to be self-reliant and avoid stressing an already-broken system.

As the days wore on there was growing awareness of the scale of the disaster, the economic dominoes that were already beginning to fall, and the very real need to painstakingly comb through the debris of dozens of blocks of homes and shops and restaurants looking for fragments of things that are barely recognizable.

One of the good things about the power being out early on Tuesday is that most shops and restaurants were closed and so Front street might have been less bustling. An especially heartbreaking part of the way this tragedy unfolded, though, is that the schools were closed because of the outages and all of the kids were at home–many alone or with family elders. The stories from those who had people they couldn’t reach or had to leave behind are everywhere all across the island.

When the fire flared up again in the afternoon, the intensity of the heat meant that in many cases the recovery of human remains will come down to the sifting of small things from the ashes. It will be horrible, heartbreaking, and painstaking work and there will be new waves of grief as it continues. We won’t like the answers to all the questions being asked, and we won’t like when there are no answers either.

So many conversations we had over these last weeks were filled with little anecdotes of life — all the micro-moment decisions or twists of fate that changed outcomes. Our family on the island lives north of town and their home was spared but their 40-year business burned to the ground.

The Island EV owner (whose last-minute car switch probably saved our lives–thank you Jeff) lost his Lahaina home and everyone who owned a business is still just trying to size up what to do in the face of a disaster so unimaginable that no one was prepared for anything remotely like this scale of impact. Meanwhile, locals are still searching for loved ones. Families that have lived together for generations are splintered and scattered. Some have been in shelters for almost two weeks now. Families have taken in loved ones on other islands, further fracturing networks and community.

Bureaucracy deals relatively well with the predictable and repetitive, but when things that have never happened before do happen, brittle systems break down fast. Getting emergency relief funds, unemployment payments (which don’t work the same for small business owners), and needed aid to the people who need it is hard work when there is a good playbook to follow. There is none for this situation and one-size-solutions are not fit-for-purpose here in most cases.

In Lahaina, not only were many homes and people lost, but cultural and historical sites were destroyed, and an enormous part of the economic engine of the island is disrupted and likely to remain so for a long time.

Whole neighborhoods and economic districts are gone.

Even if a home is still standing there is nothing near it. The neighborhood is gone.

If a business survived, its entire market is still wiped out.

The Lahaina Harbor is full of sunken boats (many still leaking fuel) and the boat fueling station is gone. How one begins to salvage the wrecks and reopen is a big question.

Impacts to reefs or marine life of so much fuel in the water won’t be fully known for some time.

We know that 17 people were rescued from the Ocean by the Coast Guard in small dinghies and zodiaks. Larger boats couldn’t approach because the water itself was on fire for hours. No one knows how many people might have drowned.

Anyone who tells you they know that something or other will be ready by such and such a date is mostly hoping and guessing with so much still unknown and dominoes of impact just now starting to fall.

This also is the second time in less than 18 months that I have fled from wildfire with my children. It’s not really a skillset I was hoping to become “good” at. Every time something horrible happens we rightly advocate not “politicizing” it and focusing on the immediate needs of the impacted community. Here’s how you can help Maui right now.

There are lots of other ways to help and these won’t all be the best for you, but if you don’t know where to start, you can start here.

Thanks to everyone who pointed me in the direction of these resources and shaped my understanding of the issues. If you’re ready to do more and look more broadly, read on after the help section.

How to Help Maui Now (with and without money)*

Be Generous of Spirit (no money needed)

First, Do not come to Maui just to play. If you have friends or family with a trip coming up or in the next few months — please urge them to be really thoughtful at this time. The people of Hawaii are grieving. The scale of the disaster isn’t even really known yet. Some people will tell you that now is not the time under any circumstances. During my two weeks on the island, though, I also encountered many people who worried about ripple effects of lost tourism on an island where it is a major source of people’s livelihoods. If other parts of the island weaken, rebuilding Lahaina will be harder. The South and North Shores are open and the island needs resources. Having been up close, I think my best guidance would be to be really curious about the on-the-ground circumstances as they are changing daily and to explore ways to truly give back–either by volunteering on re-building efforts or making donations.

If you were planning a trip and can afford to delay or postpone, you might also consider donating the lodging to fire victims and/or contractors flown in from all over the world to help rebuild. Many of the burned homes likely included many multi-generational family members in a household and the number of buildings lost may well significantly underestimate the number of displaced people.

If you do go, be respectful, self-reliant, and full of Aloha spirit. Give more than you take. Be part of the solution.

Second, pay attention. Please don’t take your eyes off Maui. Read and comment on articles covering this crisis. Get educated. Don’t buy into wild conspiracy theories, but do ask the hard questions about why such devastatingly destructive events are happening. Look in your own backyard too. Does your town have an emergency plan for the wildly unpredictable? How can you help?

More broadly, talk about climate resilience. A year ago, I participated in a project to create The Carbon Almanac with a few hundred other people around the world. One of the many kind and generous people I worked with on that project lives on Molokai and also had family impacted directly in Lahaina. She is still currently displaced to Oahu as cell service is out across much of Molokai as well and shared some of these tips* with a list I am on and reminded us all this week that we created the almanac to help us start conversations. I’m paraphrasing some of this section on how to help and building on it with her permission and sharing my story to help spark such a conversation.

Now, more than ever, we need to be talking about the future we want to build and understanding what a common good will look like for everyone. Things are very polarized on Maui right now, very sensitive. Now is not the time to talk to people missing loved ones about what caused this. No one is ready to talk about this disaster’s connection to climate change. At least, it’s not what victims and their families want to speculate about right now. It’s hard to talk about, think about up close, when you can still barely breathe and everything you have ever known is gone.

But you (dear reader) can talk about it. If you don’t know where to start, you can leverage some of the many, many free resources on The Carbon Almanac website. Wherever you are, please start a conversation. Ask — does my community have a plan for climate resilience? What disasters can we not imagine? How can we prevent it? What will we do when it comes? Help to plan for the what-ifs, as best as you can. Be a part of the solution.

Perhaps most importantly, Show Aloha, wherever you are. Be an ambassador for Maui by shining your aloha out into the world. Don’t underestimate your ability to be significant. If you are on social media, send someone an encouraging comment who you see is going through this tragedy, or anything that might be even closer to home for you for that matter.

Recognize that these “local” events affect us all and good solutions won’t arise spontaneously or in isolation. We’re going to have to work together to find our way to the breakthrough solutions our world needs to alter our course. Otherwise we are just waiting for our number to be “up.”

Share critical information with your network. Write. Read. And most importantly — love one another. Hold the spirit of Ohana — we are family and community. We need each other. This is how you can help from wherever you are.

If you can afford even a little financial contribution, here’s how to help WITH money:

There are many places to give aid that you might be affiliated with through other sources and I encourage you to support wherever suits you. Here are a few that I have been pointed to by people close to the ground. The first is the Hawaii Community Foundation. They will bundle the funds and distribute to local agencies. #s 2 & 3 are personal connections. #4 is a list of over 1000 other individuals impacted.

Give where you can, read their stories in any case. Be in this with them.

  1. Hawaii Community Foundation: Maui Strong. This is the main fund for fire victims, with a central community foundation funneling funds through various local orgs that provide specific services and support on the ground.
  2. Extended Horizons Fund. This is the family member’s business that was completely lost after 40 years. Their page tells the story far better than I can.
  3. LaVoie Family Fund. This is my Carbon Almanac colleague’s cousin who lost his home in Lahaina. Any donation will contribute to this young family’s immediate future. They’ve lost their home, their places of work, the kids’ school, family pets, countless old photographs… They are just one of hundreds of families in crisis.
  4. Directly Aid Ohana. A volunteer started this doc. It’s grown to include more than a thousand individual families who have set up direct funding efforts, go fund me’s, venmos, paypals, etc. Donate if you can, even $1. Comment where you’re from. Seeing support from all corners of the globe lifts everyone’s spirits a little. Have a reading club or membership group you belong to? Invite everyone to sponsor a few people for a few dollars each. It adds up. Even if you can’t give, read the stories. Look the community in the eye. See yourself in them and send aloha their way.

If you’ve made it this far, and especially if you’ve taken some action above, thank you. As a remote Pacific island, Hawai’i is much more isolated than most of us on the mainland or elsewhere in the world can appreciate and getting enough of anything in place fast enough is a real logistical and humanitarian challenge.

Next Stop: The Bigger Picture

Nine days after the fires, we were able to get back into Lahaina to see Alex’s brother and, ironically, pick up the physical proof of my new book about causing breakthroughs from breakdowns. We’d planned to have it shipped there when we expected to be staying back in Lahaina and in the immediate aftermath of the fire, we didn’t know enough to divert it. By the time we tried, it was too late and I had resigned myself to just wait until I was back in Colorado. But on Thursday morning, August 17th, we woke to the news that the road in and out of town had reopened and a notice that the package was out for delivery.

There’s more magic in that story for another post on another day.

We contacted Alex’s brother to confirm we could reach them if we came, and tried to prepare ourselves for the drive back. For the second time in less than two years I stared out at whole neighborhoods vanished.

In December of 2021, many friends lost homes when the Marshall Fire destroyed 1000 homes in less than 12 hours just east of me in Colorado, but the loss of life in Lahaina, Hawaii will end up being hundreds of times what it was here.

Just a little over a year ago I had to evacuate my own home ahead of yet another wildfire with my kids here in Colorado. Thankfully, that time too, several more things went our way than not. I’m very clear that kind of luck isn’t accidental, but systemic.

Fleeing with my kids is hard. Fleeing without them would be unthinkable. That’s the impossible choice many faced in Lahaina last week. Where do you go when you don’t know where your people are?

As I’ve been writing this weekend, I can see so many scary parallels from the micro-level human stories of heartbreaking loss and courageous acts of kindness to the macro-powers-that-be at play in both the Marshall fires and in the Maui fires.

What was different in Lahaina was the amount of higher density housing and workplaces–the mix of people across income brackets and cultures and generations. It was a bustling and busy time of year, not a sleepy holiday. The roads were clogged and no one knew how to get out.

All this will happen again and again, unpredictably on a specific level but with high certainty across the board. It will happen in different communities, with different demographics. Each time we will never have been able to imagine that it could happen here.

The weather event on Maui was a bad one, but the human systems the storm ran into were not set up to flex with the unpredictable and that made an already dangerous situation impossible to handle.

One of the things that was so viscerally palpable this week was that the most resilient system was one of Ohana–family and community–networks of people coming together to pitch in and help out when nothing else seems to be working.

We can’t solve for any of this alone, and shouldn’t try to.

If you’ve read this far, you’re already helping. Thanks!

Mahalo for reading and helping. Please share widely.

Looking back toward Lahaina from Kihei one last time before leaving. August 18, 2023.



Jennifer Simpson

An artist, poet, leader, lover, daughter, sister, and mother living in Boulder, Colorado. Owner and CEO at Integrated Work. Author of the KOAN method.