‘Smoke started filling the house’: Maui resident with Vancouver Island ties speaks on deadly wildfire

'Smoke started filling the house': Maui resident with Vancouver Island ties speaks on deadly wildfire

B.C. travellers returning home from Maui recount terrifying scenes of devastation after wildfires tore through the island, flattening homes and leaving dozens dead as the search for survivors continues.

Now, search and rescue is a top priority in the aftermath of ferocious wildfires that left nothing behind.

Investigators are still not sure what sparked the fire.

Drought conditions on Maui contributed, as well as winds exceeding 135-kilometres an hour, leaving Lahaina residents like Cristina Johnson fleeing for her life.

“The power went out at 4:30 or 5 a.m., and then the gas station blew up at, like, three, and since then we’ve just been trying to outrun a fire,” Johnson said.

Some were forced into the ocean to escape the flames, but there was no escape for the historic town of Lahaina.

Maui resident Kirstie Carlson is watching helplessly from Nanaimo.

“I mean it’s just horrific. It’s horrible,” she told CHEK News on Thursday.

She’s lived on Maui for 21 years, but is visiting family on Vancouver Island right now.

Her boyfriend, Mark Clemons, had to evacuate their home, about 45-minutes from Lahaina, with their six cats in just minutes when he realized the fire was close.

“He started to hear it. He could hear the crackling and the smoke started filling the house,” said Carlson. “It was like, OK, that’s it. He was driving down through smoke. It was nighttime by then,” Carlson said.

Their house is still standing, but Klemons and the neighbours returned to their homes and started putting out embers still burning.

“They all got shovels and started whacking the smoldering embers back, killing, making sure everything wasn’t flaming anymore,” Carlson said.

U.S. officials say at least 271 structures have been damaged or destroyed as the death toll climbs.

And the nightmare is not over for residents, including Kekoa Lansford.

“Still get dead bodies in the water floating and on the sea wall, they have been sitting there since last night,” Lansford said. “We’ve been pulling people out since last night trying to save peoples’ lives, and we are not getting the help we need.”

La Phena Davis lost everything.

“Everything that we’ve owned in all my 50 years of life is completely burned to the ground. The home is gone,” Davis said.

Whole neighbourhoods consumed by fire as efforts to preserve life continue.

U.S. President Joe Biden is ordering major assistance to be deployed to Hawaii.

“We have just approved a major disaster declaration for Hawaii, which will get aid in the hands of people who desperately need help now,” Biden said from Salt Lake City, Utah.

Travellers returning to Vancouver from Maui are feeling relief.

Some, like Calgary resident Vladimir Stelkic, recount the nerve-wracking drive on a back road to get to the airport.

“We were about 10 minutes away from the fire. We could see the glow and the smoke, it was very scary,” Stelkic said.

Langley resident Jennifer Cordoba said they only arrived on Maui on Tuesday.

“I feel bad for the people in Maui and the places we were in were beautiful and a lot of people were scrambling to leave,” Cordoba said.

People with missing loved ones are urged to contact the Red Cross.

Canadians are being warned to avoid non-essential travel to Maui as wildfires continue to torch the Pacific island.

READ MORE: Six wildfires being monitored in Strathcona, Schoen Lake provincial parks

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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