In August of 2023, the town of Lahaina on Maui was devastated by wildfires. Much of the town was destroyed, and most Lahaina families were displaced.
For our most recent Maui Strong launch, we were grateful and honored to be able to photograph two beautiful ʻohana and their keiki. Rachael Rickard and Katey Kuresa not only took the time to model for us, they also took the time to share their stories with our community.
Both women and their families were displaced during the fires, and are still working to find their normal during this time of uncertainty. Please read their powerful stories, and find ways to support the people of Maui, at the end of this blog.
Growing up in Hawaii be like, “what’s your last name”, “what high school you went to”, “who is this person to you” or “oh yah I know your family” is probably the first conversation starter anywhere.
My name is Rachael Rickard and the same story goes for me in our small town of Lahaina. My family has become an influential family in the Lahaina community through the works of my grandparents, my dad and his two brothers. Our families commitment to Lahaina runs deep. We have been unwavering supporters of Lahainaluna High School, Lahaina and the entire Maui community, yielding a legacy of police officers, nurses, teachers and coaches who have served tirelessly. We are a very close knit family that celebrates every occasion together with our favorite being Christmas Eve at grandmas. This tradition has been going on for 33 years that started with the 1st grand child. There are 11 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren. Being that me, my brother, my two cousins and my grandparents lived on the same street, my grandparents house was our grand central station and safe haven. It was a place where we have an unlimited supply of food, a place where we could talk about our day and a place where our children would play together till the sun goes down. In total we loss a total of four family homes leaving 20 of us all displaced.
The day of the fire I woke up and did my normal routine like everyone else did that day. The winds was something I have never seen before in Lahaina. I was just about to put my daughter down for a nap when my neighbor and my grandma came knocking on my door telling me to come outside and look at the fire. The sky was dark and all I could see was black smoke. I knew that we had to evacuate immediately because the fire was spreading fast. Luckily, my mom was home at the time so we both jumped in one car. I was such in a panic to get my daughter out that I didn’t even think about grabbing anything. My entire family met down the road at my cousins house where we regrouped to see what our next move was, but time was not on our side as the fire was slowly making its way towards us so we all went our separate ways.
At this time, my cousin had asked me to take his car not thinking I would get separated from my mom and one year old daughter. There was no cell service, roofs were flying everywhere, telephone poles and lines were obstructing the evacuation routes. It was complete chaos and no one was safe. I somehow made my way to Front Street heading North to Kaanapali trying to find my mom thinking they were heading the same way as me. The cars were not moving, it was a standstill. I kept looking up at the sky which went from black to red and orange. I knew the fire was near and I needed to make a decision either to keep going or turn around and head South towards Wailuku. Even though I knew there was no cell service I kept trying to call my cousins wife since she was the only one I had last contact with. Finally, at the very last second, I got reception and asked if she knew where my mom and daughter went. She told me they were safe and to get out of Front Street. I booked it out of there fast and didn’t look back.
We thankfully all found our way back to one another on the Lahaina bypass along with many other families watching our town burn. Everyone was in shock, we couldn’t believe what just happened. It was something you only saw in movies. We were all devastated.
It’s been four months now and life on Maui outside of Lahaina hasn’t changed. My family and I lived in Wailuku since the fire and everything this side of the island is normal as usual. We would travel back and forth to the Westside over the weekends to be with family and passing through our home and town seemed so eerie. During the day all you see is burned homes then at night it’s pitch black. Lahaina is completely destroyed, yet businesses are open, then the further North you go it’s all so normal. You have tourists here, construction everywhere, displaced families figuring out where they are going to live and still only one road to enter and exit Lahaina. It’s chaotic and surreal at the same time. Even though my family and I are in long term housing it just doesn’t feel like home.
When people ask what makes Lahaina, Lahaina the answer is simple, it’s the people. We are a multigenerational community born and raised in Lahaina. The families that grew up here, stay and raise their children here. Lahaina people stay in Lahaina. We have so much pride in our community that you can’t find anywhere else. You literally need to grow up in Lahaina just to know how it feels.
One of my favorite memories in Lahaina is simply just growing up here. I know that sounds cliche, but having the opportunity to be raised with your cousins and be with your family is the best part of living in Lahaina. You get to play outside in the streets together, play sports together, walk down front street together and everything else in between. You get to create memories with the people you love and care most about in this life and that’s what I cherish the most growing up. Now that I have a daughter, she too will grow up in Lahaina with all her cousins and continue this memory.
The one thing I would like to share is that we are a strong and resilient community, and the people aren’t going anywhere.
Lahaina is special and a beautiful place. We are so very grateful for all the contributions, support and prayers from all over the world.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your 'ohana, and your connection to Lahaina
I was raised in Lahaina and met my husband in Lahaina. We are now raising our little family here and couldn’t imagine raising them anywhere else. Lahaina is the tie that binds us together. Although we lost our home in the fire, we are not leaving and will fight to keep Lahaina, LAHAINA.
What is life like on Maui right now?
Life on Maui right now…. let's just say we're surviving. Trying to balance life as a survivor and then hold it together in the workforce is challenging. With that said, I am grateful for all that we still have and what has been gifted to us.
What do you think makes the community of Lahaina so strong/tight-knit/supportive of each other?
Our community of Lahaina is one big ohana. Everyone knows everyone and we support one another as best we can. It takes a village to raise our children and I couldn't be happier with the village that loves our ohana. I think we are so close because of the pride we have for our place. No matter the differences, we all come from this rich community.
What is one of your favorite memories in Lahaina?
There are so so many. But my most recent favorite memory is simply taking my family walking down front street for shave ice. Not long before the fire, it kind of turned into a weekly outing for my husband and I to walk from the outlets to get shave ice with the kids. We realized we always stopped to take a picture in front of the same wall and although it wasn’t intentional, those pictures are now something I treasure the most.
Anything else you would like to share with our community?
I can’t speak for everyone but I hope that we can all come together and fight for what is right. The Lahaina community is one of a kind and truly special and I know we will get through this together because we are LAHAINA STRONG.
For ways to help families impacted by the Maui wildfires this holiday season, please visit these resources below:
Makana no nā Keiki - An organization collecting toys and granting wishes for keiki affected by the wildfires.
Maui Ocean Center and Maui United Way are partnering to collect books and toys for keiki impacted by the wildfires. Everything you purchase will go to the Maui Ocean Center where it will be wrapped, and then delivered to keiki in need. View the Amazon Wishlist here.
Donate a Holiday Meal to Maui ʻohana in need here.
Shop our Maui Strong collection, where 100% of proceeds will be donated to the Maui Strong Fund.