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Update: Church responding with relief after Hawaii wildfires

Five Latter-day Saints died in the fires; meanwhile, the Church is responding with relief as early stages of recovery begin

Editors note: This article has been repeatedly updated with information as it became available about the wildfires on the island of Maui, Hawaii.

Aug. 12, 2023: Assessments begin, community comes together after Maui fires

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are joining with the rest of the community to mourn, assess damage and provide relief from the deadly wildfires that struck the Hawaiian island of Maui — almost destroying the entire town of Lahaina and causing countless other damages.

Exterior brick walls are charred with warped beams across the inside of the Old Lahaina Courthouse.
The charred remains of the Old Lahaina Courthouse are shown, Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii. | Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

The fires were still not fully contained as of Friday evening, Aug. 11. News reports now list the death toll at 80 people, but Maui government officials believe that number may rise.

Among the dead are five Latter-day Saints, including four members of the same family, reported a news release from ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

The Hawaii National Guard and other organizations are assessing damage and beginning the recovery process on the island.

Aerial view shows a area of Lahaina along the coastline where most of the buildings are piles of ash and rubble and scorched trees. A few buildings in the foreground are untouched.
This photo provided by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources shows burnt areas in Lahaina on the Maui island, Hawaii, Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, following a wildfire. | Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources via Associated Press

Members of the Church are working alongside others to provide relief — delivering critical supplies like baby formula, canned goods, propane and gasoline to people in need — even opening their homes to people who are displaced.

The Kahului Hawaii and Kahului Hawaii West stake centers are open to the community and providing water, basic necessities and hot meals to anyone in need. Supplies will be sent to Maui from the bishops’ storehouse in Honolulu.

More resources and additional leader support from Church headquarters will arrive in the coming days, explained the news release.

A burned blue boat named Roxie sits in the water with wreckage from other boats floating behind it.
Burnt boats sit in waters off of Lahaina, Hawaii, on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023. The search of the wildfire wreckage on the Hawaiian island of Maui revealed a wasteland of burned out homes and obliterated communities. | Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Aug. 11, 2023: 4 Latter-day Saints die in Hawaii fires

Four members of a Latter-day Saint family died as a result of the fires on the island of Maui in Hawaii, the Church News has learned.

Elder Mark A. Bragg, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Church’s North America West Area, said the family appears to have died as a result of trying to escape the flames in their car.

The Church News is not naming the family at this time until more family members are notified, but will release more information when it becomes available.

Aug. 11, 2023: Church provides update on Maui fires

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to provide basic needs and temporary shelter to people impacted by the deadly wildfires still burning in Hawaii.

New information from ChurchofJesusChrist.org explains:

“As part of this emergency response, the Church of Jesus Christ has provided two meetinghouses as temporary shelters. Two other meetinghouses, located in the fire zones in Lahaina, are undamaged. Water and other basic needs are being provided to evacuees in these areas. The Church will continue to respond as needed based on coordination with civil authorities and community relief organizations.”

Church leaders have encountered challenges contacting members on the islands because of limited cell towers and phone lines. But as reported previously in the Church News, all missionaries in Hawaii are accounted for.

A burned two-story building’s roof has collapsed and covered in ashes.
Wildfire wreckage is shown Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii. | Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Next, local Church leaders will distribute supplies throughout the community. Local relief projects are being organized, and wards, families and individuals are encouraged to participate as they are able. Missionaries are also expected to provide assistance with relief efforts.

The Associated Press reports residents of Lahaina were being allowed back home on Friday, Aug. 11, for the first time since the fires began. Large sections of the town are destroyed or flattened to debris, and the death toll reached at least 55 people.

Aug. 10, 2023: Massive, deadly Hawaii fires affect Latter-day Saints and their neighbors

Raging brush fires fueled by hurricane-force winds are devastating the state of Hawaii — with at least 36 people killed on the island of Maui and more than 11,000 people evacuated, according to news reports.

Much of the town of Lahaina has been destroyed, and hundreds of families have been displaced. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are among those affected by the fires and resulting evacuations.

Fire and smoke filling the sky from wildfires on the intersection at Hokiokio Place and Lahaina Bypass in Maui, Hawaii.
Fire and smoke fill the sky from wildfires on the intersection at Hokiokio Place and Lahaina Bypass in Maui, Hawaii, on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. | Zeke Kalua, County of Maui via Associated Press

All missionaries are safe and accounted for on Maui and the other islands, but more than 500 Church members have evacuated as of Thursday morning, said Elder Mark A. Bragg, General Authority Seventy and president of the Church’s North America West Area.

Elder Bragg said stake centers on the island are being used as shelters for the community — with the Kahului Hawaii West Stake center currently housing hundreds of people. Others are staying with family or friends farther away from the fires or at other evacuation sites.

While the fires have damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes, the Church’s chapels in Lahaina appear to be undamaged.

Latter-day Saints on Maui reach out

Elder Bragg said the last few days have been emotional.

“As an area presidency, we are grateful for the kindness and generosity of the Saints in Maui who have provided food, water, clothing and shelter for those in the community who have been impacted,” Elder Bragg said. 

He added that after the fires, there will be need for great clean-up and restoration efforts, and Latter-day Saints on Maui are already planning on how to marshal the resources for such an effort.

“There is an island spirit of aloha that naturally prompts people to reach out and bless others. We have seen this since the very start of the firestorm.”  

This story will be updated.

Wildfire wreckage is seen Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii.
Wildfire wreckage is seen Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii. The search of the wildfire wreckage on the Hawaiian island of Maui on Thursday revealed a wasteland of burned out homes and obliterated communities as firefighters battled the deadliest blaze in the U.S. in recent years. | RIck Bowmer, Associated Press
This graphic shows the location of fires on the island of Maui, Hawaii.
This graphic shows the location of fires on the island of Maui, Hawaii, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023. Several thousand Hawaii residents raced to escape homes on Maui as the Lahaina fire swept across the island, killing multiple people and burning parts of a centuries-old town. | Associated Press
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