Two Pleasanton residents were among the numerous visitors to Maui who were caught off guard by the unexpected and catastrophic wildfires on the Hawaiian island that have drawn international attention and round-the-clock news coverage since their rapid onset last week.
Susan and Tom Fox returned home to the Tri-Valley last Friday following a two-week trip to a condo that they've owned for approximately eight years on the island they've visited regularly and loved for more than 40 years -- with their vacation home now occupied by workers at the facility who lost their homes in the recent inferno.
"It's just such a beautiful place, and it's very calm and peaceful," Susan Fox told the Weekly.
Fox said that she and her husband travel to the island approximately three or four times a year on average, where they stay in the condo located approximately 10 miles north of Lahaina -- a hub for visitors and residents of the island that was effectively burned to the ground during last week's blaze and where much of the rising death toll was centered.
"It was totally shocking," Susan Fox said. "We had lost power the day before. The winds were extremely strong -- we lost power on Monday through very early Tuesday. We had heard Tuesday morning that there had been a brush fire, and it had been contained was what we heard. We had no idea that Lahaina was burning."
With the power outage and loss of cellphone reception throughout the island, as well as wind blowing smoke in the opposite direction from their condo, Tom Fox said that those in that part of Maui at the time were likely some of the last to find out about the fires as the story rapidly spread throughout national and international media outlets.
"There was no power anywhere, so outside of Maui you all saw pictures and got news reports before we did," Tom Fox said.
"We just knew Wednesday morning when the employees came in crying because they had lost their homes," Susan Fox said.
As the only property owners in the condo at the time of the fires, and as longtime visitors to the island, the couple said they had known employees at the facility for years.
While their property was unscathed, Susan Fox said that the destruction in Lahaina was painful for everyone with connections to the island, visitors and residents alike.
"That's such a historic town," Susan Fox said. "I think everyone who comes to Maui eventually goes there."
Among the historic sites lost in the fire was Waiola Church -- built on the site of a mission that was first established 200 years ago this year -- where the couple had long attended services, and where their building manager, Anela Rosa, was a pastor.
While the Foxes said they plan to return to the island to visit and help support their friends and acquaintances when feasible, Susan Fox said that the community would need a break from casual tourists in the immediate future.
"Nobody should go there and gawk," Susan Fox said. "They need to help their own people."
Susan Fox added that she and her husband were keeping in contact with their friends and acquaintances on the island, and waiting to hear what help they need firsthand, rather than seeking to provide relief through an organization. However, they pointed to the Hawai'i Community Foundation's Maui Strong Fund as a well-respected and recommended source to donate to. More information is available at hawaiicommunityfoundation.org/maui-strong.