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Family in Lahaina Uncovers Precious Relics Amid Ruins During Initial Return After Catastrophic Wildfire

by Ethan Kim
6 comments
Wildfire Aftermath

Leola Vierra cautiously navigated through the solidified remains of molten metal, scorched lumber, and shattered glass that mark the vestiges of her residence of nearly five decades.

While rummaging through the debris, she stumbled upon two containers featuring a cow design, which were a part of her extensive bovine-themed collection. Her son, in the vicinity, unearthed the scorched remains of his late grandfather’s service pistol, dating back to his tenure as a Lahaina police officer from the late 1940s until the 1970s. However, there was no trace of the family’s treasured cat, Kitty Kai, who used to welcome Vierra home after her work and church engagements.

“I am deeply saddened and devastated. This was my sanctuary,” she lamented.

Vierra, alongside her spouse and two grown children, ventured back to their property on Tuesday for the inaugural visit since the most fatal U.S. wildfire in over 100 years tore through the historic Lahaina community on August 8, claiming no fewer than 97 lives. They were part of a small cohort of locals permitted reentry into the incinerated zone to assess the damage to their former dwellings.

For their protection against hazardous ash and other potential risks, the family donned boots, white protective suits, facial masks, and gloves. However, their inspection was abruptly truncated after approximately 15 minutes as workers arrived to secure the area with yellow caution tape.

An official from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency subsequently conveyed via phone that a team had conducted a “final quality assurance assessment” on the preceding Saturday and had concerns about unidentified objects below the collapsed roof. The agency would dispatch a team on Wednesday morning for further evaluation and would update the family accordingly.

Subsequently, the family congregated on the sidewalk, casting their gazes toward their devastated property. Mika Vierra, Leola’s son, expressed intentions to revisit the site upon receiving official clearance.

The family’s four-bedroom residence, conceived by Vierra herself, was situated on a hill with an oceanic vista along Maui’s coast. Once equipped with a semi-filled swimming pool and an open-air kitchen, which Vierra fondly referred to as the cabana, both features were now decimated.

The Vierras owned and operated four retail establishments catering to tourists, merchandising items such as aloha shirts, muumuus, and leis handcrafted by Mike Vierra, Leola’s husband, using plumeria blossoms from their garden. Three of these shops were reduced to ashes. Remarkably, three out of a dozen plumeria trees on their property survived the conflagration, as did three small banyan trees, each planted in honor of one of their children, which showed encouraging signs of new growth.

Local authorities initiated a restricted reentry scheme, opening a segment of approximately 24 lots in Lahaina’s northern region between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday. Access permits were made available to residents and property owners.

Like numerous other survivors, the Vierra family has been residing temporarily in a resort hotel, courtesy of government-sponsored housing across Maui. They postponed their visit until Tuesday to accommodate Mika, who flew in from Utah where he is employed in sales.

Upon his arrival, Mika proceeded directly to the property with his parents. He revealed that he and his sister are committed to reconstructing their home following the completion of the cleanup process, the timing of which remains uncertain.

“We are resolved to construct a worthy edifice on the site where our former home stood,” he affirmed.


Reported by Johnson from Seattle.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Wildfire Aftermath

What happened to the Vierra family’s home in Lahaina?

The Vierra family’s home was destroyed in the most fatal U.S. wildfire in over a century, which occurred in Lahaina on August 8. The fire claimed at least 97 lives and obliterated the historic town.

What did the Vierra family find upon their first return to their property?

Upon their initial return, Leola Vierra found two cow-patterned containers that were part of her bovine-themed collection. Her son discovered the charred remains of his late grandfather’s police service pistol. However, there was no sign of their cherished cat, Kitty Kai.

What precautions did the family take during their visit?

For their protection against toxic ash and other hazards, the Vierra family wore boots, white protective suits, facial masks, and gloves. Their inspection was cut short by officials due to safety concerns.

Were there any surviving elements of their property?

Three of the family’s dozen plumeria trees survived the fire, as did three small banyan trees, each planted in honor of one of their children. These trees even showed signs of new growth.

What did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) convey to the family?

An official from the EPA informed the family that their property was being cordoned off due to safety concerns. A team would return for further evaluation, and the agency would call with an update.

What were the Vierras’ business interests, and how were they affected?

The Vierra family ran four retail shops catering to tourists, selling various items like aloha shirts and leis. Three of these establishments were destroyed in the fire.

What are the Vierras’ future plans?

Mika Vierra, the son, revealed that he and his sister plan to rebuild their home once the cleanup process is complete, although the timing for this remains uncertain.

How is the local government facilitating the return of residents to Lahaina?

Local authorities have initiated a restricted reentry scheme. A segment of approximately 24 lots in the north of Lahaina was opened for residents and property owners to obtain passes and inspect their properties.

Where is the Vierra family currently staying?

The Vierra family, like many other survivors, has been put up in a resort hotel as part of a government-sponsored temporary housing initiative across Maui.

More about Wildfire Aftermath

  • Lahaina Wildfire: A Comprehensive Report
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Wildfire Guidelines
  • Temporary Housing Initiatives for Wildfire Victims
  • History of Lahaina: Before and After the Fire
  • Wildfire Safety Measures and Protective Gear Recommendations
  • Economic Impact of Lahaina Wildfire on Local Businesses

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6 comments

SaraQ September 27, 2023 - 5:24 pm

Didn’t expect the article to be this deep. Leola’s collection and the family businesses just shows how this isn’t just an insurance claim but a lifetime’s work gone.

Reply
Tim_in_MA September 27, 2023 - 7:00 pm

gotta say, it’s promising to hear that some things survived, like those trees. sometimes life finds a way, ya know?

Reply
Mike47 September 27, 2023 - 10:49 pm

I’ve been following this disaster since day one. Hats off to the authorities for at least organizing some sort of reentry scheme. safety first, folks.

Reply
EmilyS September 28, 2023 - 12:16 am

Heartbreaking read, especially about the pets and personal belongings. It’s not just a house, its memories that got destroyed 🙁

Reply
RachelZ September 28, 2023 - 12:20 am

Devastating to think about the magnitude of this tragedy. Good to know they plan to rebuild but when will all this wildfire madness end?

Reply
JohnDoe September 28, 2023 - 2:23 am

Wow, can’t imagine what the Vierras must be going thru. Losing your home is tough but losing your entire town is something else. hope they rebuild soon.

Reply

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