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Hawaii Wildfires

Active Recovery
August 2023
An aerial image taken on August 10, 2023 shows a person walking down Front Street past destroyed buildings burned to the ground in Lahaina in the aftermath of wildfires in western Maui, Hawaii. At least 36 people have died after a fast-moving wildfire turned Lahaina to ashes, officials said August 9, 2023 as visitors asked to leave the island of Maui found themselves stranded at the airport. The fires began burning early August 8, scorching thousands of acres and putting homes, businesses and 35,000 lives at risk on Maui, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said in a statement. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

Deadly Wildfires

“A lot of the survivors had to leave their homes very quickly and did not have an opportunity to get anything or take anything with them and many have lost everything,” said Mariel Fonteyn, Americares director of U.S. emergency response.

Devastating wildfires, spurred by dry conditions and strong winds in the aftermath of Hurricane Dora, swept through the Hawaiian Islands, killing 97 people, causing major destruction and displacing thousands across Maui, the Big Island, and Lahaina. The Maui wildfires that consumed the community of Lahaina are the deadliest in the U.S in more than 100 years according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Much of historic downtown Lahaina was reduced to ash. Approximately 2,200 structures were destroyed or damaged in Maui, most of them residential. Lahaina holds over 1,000 years of historical and cultural significance to the Hawaiian people. The depth of the loss is unimaginable. President Joe Biden approved an emergency disaster declaration, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide support and federal funding for the recovery.

Americares deployed emergency teams to Hawaii and provided support for local partners including a modular clinic, mental health services along with medicines and supplies.

Updated 2.8.24

An aerial image taken on August 10, 2023 shows a person walking down Front Street past destroyed buildings burned to the ground in Lahaina in the aftermath of wildfires in western Maui, Hawaii, that began on August 8. Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Our Response

U.S-based Americares emergency response experts completed the first phase of our work, assessed the needs of local health care facilities, coordinated emergency shipments of medicine and relief supplies and worked with local and national organizations responding to the crisis. 

The team visited a number of facilities including a shelter and family assistance center, a clinic, and a medical “hub” where multiple local clinics and pharmacies are currently operating. The needs in the community have included respiratory illnesses and mental health. Another team was then deployed and provided support to 3 partners in Maui.

Due to the Lahaina community’s deep trauma and need to mourn and heal in accordance with their own traditions, Americares was committed to approaching this response with a deep respect for local customs, striving to ensure that all of our outreach, consultations, needs assessments and aid were adapted to the local context. Some of the funding we provided was for clinics that incorporated traditional Hawaiian healing practices, making health care as approachable as possible to local community members.

Mental Health

Mental health issues frequently arise following a disaster as survivors cope with loss, displacement and other traumas that often exacerbate any underlying health issues. Americares deployed specialized mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) staff to provide services to survivors, including local medical professionals. The team worked with Maui Behavioral Health Resources to create and provide trainings to their staff. The team also assisted in training and providing resources for a new staff member who worked a “warm line” that will provide a space for individuals with small crises to call. In addition, Americares supported Malama Ke Ola one day a week where the team met with individuals and groups to provide emotional care support. Lastly, the team worked with the Maui AIDS Foundation to establish MHPSS interventions and trainings that can be shared with staff.

Working with Partners

Americares swiftly responded to requests for medical supplies, including hygiene kits, AEDs, IV start kits, medical supplies and respiratory medication such as albuterol sulfate mist inhalers, that were delivered to the Hawaii Island Community Health Center and Project Vision Hawaii.

Staff member in blue sweatshirt operating forklift to ready relief supply shipment for Hawaii. Four palettes of supplies are set in a row.
Staff prepare a shipment of relief supplies for Hawaii at Americares Global Distribution Center in Stamford, Conn.

In addition to delivering supplies and providing mental health support, Americares also approved emergency funding to partners including West Hawaii Community Health Center, Information Technology Disaster Resource Center, Aloha House, Hospice Maui, Project Vision Hawaii and the Community Clinic of Maui Malama Ke Ola Health Center. Partners used the funds to respond to the urgent medical needs of community members, particularly those who experienced trauma and loss when the fires suddenly swept through the community. Many fled so quickly they left their belongings and medications behind, and thousands were left homeless, struggling to access medical care after the fires damaged local health facilities. For example:

  • Funding to West Hawaii Community Health Center will be used to provide urgent medical services to individuals affected by the wildfires in Lahaina, Kihei, and Kula. West Hawaii Community Health Center has partnered with the State Department of Health, Waianae Coast Comprehensive, and Malama Ke Ola to provide care every day since the fires began. These health centers have been deploying a team of 5 personnel consisting of a behavioral health specialist, licensed doctor, RN, medical assistant, community health worker, and patient navigator to provide wound care, respiratory assessments, and referrals for patients.  
  • Emergency funding will be used by the Information Technology Disaster Resource Center (ITDRC) to procure hand-held radios that will be distributed amongst clinics, community response teams, and outreach teams.
  • Funding for Malama Ke Ola will be used to purchase resources for a mobile medical unit that will operate in Lahaina.
  • Aloha House, another recipient of emergency funding, is a behavioral health organization in Maui whose mission is to promote recovery and healthy lifestyles. Since the wildfires, Aloha House has seen an influx in phone calls from individuals who want to speak with someone. In addition, they have seen a lack of phone calls from adults trying to access substance abuse resources. This grant would be used to fund a “warm line” which would make phone calls to at-risk individuals impacted by the fire.
  • Maui AIDS Foundation used medical mobile units to reach residents that lost access to health facilities and offered a one-stop-shop with services such as mental health counseling, wound care, eye and dental care and services for children in addition. The units also issued food items, harm reduction education, and bus passes for transportation to free clinics. The Foundation also procured and installed air monitors and PPE to help minimize patient and staff exposure to contaminants from the ash and to hire a patient navigator to help with the increased patient load.
  • Funding for Heart to Heart International helped to fund the donation of 1 fully equipped modular clinic for Project Vision to provide healthcare services to temporary and current unhoused residents in Lahaina who have been impacted by the fire. The clinic officially opened on December 5th in an area that averages 130 residents at any given time. Project Vision is able to operate the clinic daily and provides services such as wound care, primary care, psychiatric care, and therapy as well as non-western medicine such as traditional Hawaiian healing practices, yoga and meditation, acupuncture, and massage. These services are provided by a rotating team partially funded by Americares. During its first month the clinic had 171 patient encounters.  READ MORE about the clinic in Maui.
From left to right: Betsy Warfield, Senior Director, EP Systems and Global Readiness, Martha Kennard, Deputy SVP, Gift in Kind Operations, Augistina Boehringer, and Wes Comfort of Heart to Heart International stand in front of a portable clinic at Heart to Heart’s international headquarters in Lenexa Kansas. Americares and Heart to Heart International donated the portable clinic to Project Vision Hawaii to provide medical care to unhoused populations and those displaced by the Maui wildfires .
  • In addition, support has been provided for Hospice Maui.
  • At the same time, Americares has provided shipments of hygiene items and other medical supplies to Project Vision and West Hawaii Community Health Center.

The Recovery

In the coming months, Americares will continue aiding in the recovery of families and individuals in Lahaina. We are working closely with several partner organizations there to respond to exactly what they need to foster effective and culturally sensitive healing and resilience for those who have lost so much—their homes, their cars, their workplaces, parks, schools, and community spaces.

“It’s not just about treating physical wounds, but also about restoring a sense of normalcy. And most importantly, it is about helping survivors take the first crucial steps towards recovery. This recovery will unfortunately take years,” 

Mariel Fonteyn