‘I felt overwhelmed’: Maui woman shares story of escaping flames

FOX 12′s Debra Gil is in Hawaii to cover the fires and aftermath.
Published: Aug. 15, 2023 at 7:45 AM PDT
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MAUI COUNTY, HI (KPTV) - The evacuation shelters on Maui continue to be a place of refuge and comfort for those who raced from the inferno that engulfed their town and homes a week ago.

Go into pretty much any store on the island of Maui and you will overheard conversations of people talking about some amazing tales of their escape of the flames in Lahaina. FOX 12 reporter Debra Gill ran into one such woman with an incredible story.

SEE ALSO: Death toll in Hawaii wildfire rises to 99; hundreds remain unaccounted for

Rebecca Wimmer wants to return to Lahaina some day.

“I really want to be near people that I know and my history. I’m connected there,” she said.

Even after reliving the terrifying events of last Tuesday.

First the power went out and she could smell smoke but not see it. Then the winds picked up and she saw ash falling and igniting the leaves and knew it was time to get out but there was not warning.

“By then the wind had pushed the smoke cloud down to street level and there was practically zero visibility,” Wimmer explained.

She was able to drive away, barely able to see the taillights in front of her, and made it far enough away to beat the flames but finally had to stop.

“My phone had already died and then my car died,” she said. “I felt overwhelmed because I thought what else can go wrong, and how isolated I am, no connections.”

Wimmer spent the night in her car, and she spent the next two nights at the war memorial evacuation shelter. She calls the set up, care, and treatment of people and their pets impressive, but she felt the pull to go back and see first-hand what had become of her home.

“I saw... it looked like a building had been cremated. There was nothing identifiable. Everything was powder,” she said.

The retired teacher says some of her educator friends and parents of past students talked to each other and found her a small guest house. She can stay for a month for free.

SEE ALSO: FOX 12′s Debra Gil reports from Maui: Volunteers search through Lahaina ashes for lost, injured pets

One store gave her a discount, and her car repair place also gave her a discount and more.

“While I’m sitting there waiting to get my car back, the employees went out and found me shoes and clothes,” she said.

The stories out of Maui not only include the sadness and loss, but also hope and kindness.