After a roaring wildfire devastated the city of Lahaina, there were immediate comparisons to Paradise, California, which was nearly wiped out in 2018.
Since then, the town’s residents have worked to rebuild, and they hope their experience can be of help to the people on Maui.
“Honestly, I had to turn away and not look at it,” said Paradise Mayor Greg Bolin. “It was so much like what we had here, and it was very hard to watch. Your heart just sunk watching it.”
Looking at Paradise, it’s hard to envision that it was once a densely forested community. It looks a bit like the high desert; although, amidst the stumps, new trees have begun to sprout.
About a third of the population has returned and home construction is ongoing. The commercial district is still sparse, but one building that, by some miracle, survived is Snoop Sisters Vintage and More.
Owner Theresa Iman said the second-hand store has become important for helping victims locate items that remind them of things lost in the fire.
“It’s the little, tiny things,” said Iman. “I’ll never forget, a friend of mine reached down and he picked up a rubber band after the fire, and he said, ‘I have a rubber band. I own a rubber band.’ and put it in his pocket. He still has the rubber band. But it was the only thing he owned.”
It’s an important lesson for Lahaina. The residents didn’t just lose their houses. They lost their entire sense of place. And Bolin said there are difficult psychological hurdles to cross.
“People are angry — and we went through that — because they’re hurting. And they take it out on public officials, they take it out on the people that are keeping them from going in because they’ve got to look for bodies. It is a very emotional time,” he said.
Island officials have already begun reaching out to Paradise for advice, and while you might think the town would be tired of being identified for the worst day in its history, Recovery Director Colette Curtis said it has given them a sense of purpose.
“We feel that we’re a lot more than that, we’re a lot more than this disaster,” she said. “However, we really take this as a very special responsibility that has been bestowed on us. To learn from this, to figure out how to get through this and show other communities and other people how you can survive something like this.”
“We know what they feel,” said Iman. “We know the loneliness. We know the feeling of ‘everyone forgot,’ but we haven’t. We’re not forgetting. We’ll never forget. We haven’t forgotten here, and we won’t forget you either.”
What was once unimaginable must now be planned for, and the lessons of Paradise are there to help Lahaina and whoever else could be next.
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