- In August, America’s most deadly wildfire in more than a century erupted in Maui, Hawaii.
- The blaze, which sent residents jumping over a sea wall to find shelter in the waves, destroyed 2,000 buildings and killed dozens of victims.
- On Monday, authorities began allowing residents of Lahaina to return to the scorched historic town.
From just outside the burn zone in Lahaina, Jes Claydon can see the ruins of the rental home where she lived for 13 years and raised three children. Little remains recognizable beyond the jars of sea glass that stood outside the front door.
On Monday, officials will begin lifting restrictions on entry to the area, and Claydon hopes to collect those jars and any other mementos she might find.
“I want the freedom to just be there and absorb what happened,” Claydon said. “Whatever I might find, even if it’s just those jars of sea glass, I’m looking forward to taking it. … It’s a piece of home.”
Authorities will begin allowing the first residents and property owners to return to their properties in the burn zone, many for the first time since it was demolished nearly seven weeks ago, on Aug. 8, by the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century.
The prospect of returning has stirred strong emotions in residents who fled in vehicles or on foot as the wind-whipped flames raced across Lahaina, the historic capital of the former Hawaiian kingdom, and overcame people stuck in traffic trying to escape. Some survivors jumped over a sea wall and sheltered in the waves as hot black smoke blotted out the sun. The wildfire killed at least 97 people and destroyed more than 2,000 buildings, most of them homes.
Claydon’s home was a single-story cinderblock house painted a reddish-tan, similar to the red dirt in Lahaina. She can see the property from a National Guard blockade that has kept unauthorized people out of the burn zone. A few of the walls are still standing, and some green lawn remains, she said.
Authorities have divided the burned area into 17 zones and dozens of sub-zones. Residents or property owners of the first to be cleared for reentry — known as Zone 1C, along Kaniau Road in the north part of Lahaina — will be allowed to return on supervised visits Monday and Tuesday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Those eligible could pick up passes from Friday to Sunday in advance.
Darryl Oliveira, interim administrator of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, said officials also want to ensure that they have the space and privacy to reflect or grieve as they see fit.
“They anticipate some people will only want to go for a very short period of time, a few minutes to say goodbye in a way to their property,” Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said last week. “Others may want to stay several hours. They’re going to be very accommodating.”
Those returning will be provided water, shade, washing stations, portable toilets, medical and mental health care, and transportation assistance if needed. Nonprofit groups are also offering personal protective equipment, including masks and coveralls. Officials have warned that ash could contain asbestos, lead, arsenic or other toxins.
While some residents, like Claydon, might be eager to find jewelry, photographs or other tokens of their life before the fire, officials are urging them not to sift through the ashes for fear of raising toxic dust that could endanger them or their neighbors downwind.