By David Lindeman
Hawaii is a long way from Troy, Ohio. Yet the news of the recent wildfire that decimated the town of Lahaina on the island of Maui had a personal impact for me.
My wife and I were in Hawaii 20 years ago, thanks mostly to the urging and generosity of the Smith brothers and particularly Gary Smith, who graduated from Troy High School in 1973, graduated from Ohio State four years later and then moved to Hawaii. He’s been there ever since, proudly wearing his Ohio State shirts around the island of Maui.
Here’s the thing about Hawaii: if you want to see all the action and glamour, you go to Oahu. If you want to go to a beautiful place with a slower pace, you go to Maui.
When we visited Maui, we stayed in Gary’s house and spent most of our time exploring the island. Towns like Lahaina and Makawao are great places to visit when you’re a small-town guy from Ohio. The ocean is gorgeous. The Road to Hana is a one-of-a-kind experience. The volcano Haleakala rises more than 10,000-feet-high. When you visit Maui, you know you’re not in Ohio anymore.
When we visited the island we spent some time in Lahaina. We walked down Front Street and strolled into the shops. We gawked at the famous, giant banyan tree. One of our Ohio friends who was with us expressed a little too much interest in a painting at an art gallery and got the full-court press sales pitch. We stopped at the Sunrise Café. We ate at Cheeseburger in Paradise.
Walking down Front Street then, there is no way we would have ever expected that a fire could sweep through the town and basically turn it to ashes. I looked it up and Cheeseburger in Paradise was burned to the ground, as was just about everything else on Front Street. People literally had to dive from their cars into the ocean to escape the flames, which were fanned by high winds from a nearby hurricane.
That’s another thing about Hawaii: when we visited we had the distinct feeling that there really is nowhere to go if things go bad. You’re on a small island basically in the middle of nowhere. It can be a little confining.
Our Buckeye friend Gary lives in Kihei, which is about 20 miles from Lahaina. They had fires there, too, but while Gary could see them from his home they were contained and caused comparatively little damage. We’re thankful for that.
But what will happen in Lahaina? The town’s population is around 13,000, so it’s maybe just a little bigger than Tipp City. Think what Tipp City would look like if all of Main Street and many streets in both directions were leveled by a fire. Not only is there loss of life but you also lose the town’s visible history and personality.
There already was a battle in Lahaina over preserving its heritage and limiting development. Now there will be a real fight over how to rebuild. Meanwhile, many of the town’s residents have lost everything. It has to be a devastating experience.
In the course of just a few hours, everything for those people changed. I guess it just goes to show that we really don’t have as much control over things as we think we do.
Sitting back here in Ohio, it’s hard to imagine fires like the ones on Maui. But we’re not immune: Canadian wildfires earlier this year sent all that smoke and haze down on us. Plus, we do run the risk of tornadoes and blizzards.
Right now, everything in Troy is green and there’s plenty of rain and life is good. It was just like that in Lahaina just a few days ago. It’s not like that now, and it will be a long time before it’s like that again.
If you want to help, you can go on-line and donate to the Maui Strong Fund, the Maui Mutual Aid Fund, the Maui United Way or the American Red Cross.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected].