Sheltered on a hotel balcony, the Connor family watches the 2023 fires in their Lahaina neighborhood.

Sheltered on a hotel balcony, the Connor family watches the 2023 fires in their Lahaina neighborhood.

Power outage and distant wildfires seemed more of an inconvenience than life-threatening danger for the Connor family on the morning of Aug. 8, 2023 near the historic district of Lahaina. Lance and Rachel Connor tended their toddler and infant sons throughout the morning and took short walks to escape the stuffy apartment.

“In summer, there are lots of fires in Maui,” Rachel said.  

She monitored news feeds on her cell phone for updates and cracked windows to access the breeze and minimize ashes. By 4 p.m., conditions frightened her. “My cat came on the lanai crying in a way I’d never heard before.”

She peered outside. “The wind blew like crazy. I saw pieces of roof and broken tree branches flying outside. There was a line of cars bumper to bumper on the main road.”

“We have to leave right now,” she told her husband, as she picked up the baby and her emergency go bag. “I grabbed six diapers, a charging cable, and a bottle of water running toward the door. Our toddler had no shoes, and there wasn’t time to get my wedding ring.”

Racing to their car, the family faced smoke so thick they couldn’t see the sun. They didn’t know which way to head. As they drove slowly, once-familiar and beautiful landscapes became forbidding. “Power lines went down right in front of us,” Rachel said. “I didn’t want to die with the kids. Everything felt eerie.”

They navigated a few miles to the high-end tourist area with hotels near the water. Then the full scope of the disaster hit home when hotel after hotel had no vacancy. “No one was letting us in and we were trying to find food,” Rachel said. “One shop was open, but the shelves were almost empty. We did find one bag of chips.”

Power was down everywhere and cell service intermittent. The parents began to panic how they could feed the children and find shelter.

“Finally, at the sixth hotel, the manager said he had room and that we could sign a paper on the honor system,” Rachel said. “The place had an apocalyptic feel as we climbed stairs to the tenth floor, using a flashlight to find our way.”

Though safe for the moment, hardship existed. Food shortages and lack of clear information haunted them. No gas stations were open, and their tank hovered on empty. “Our hotel didn’t have a restaurant, so we couldn’t eat. I hand-washed the few cloth diapers I had.”

Relief came the next day with catamarans sailing along the coast and bringing supplies. “There was a 100-person assembly line from the water’s edge to the road with everyone helping unload the essentials.”

Volunteers grilled food released by restaurants from freezers before everything spoiled. Lack of showers and access to laundry proved challenging. “Underwear was precious!” Rachel said. “That’s definitely going to be included in my go bag from now on.”

Rachel ended up in an urgent care clinic due to her throat starting to close from smoke inhalation. After a couple days when conditions stabilized, the Connors drove toward home. Nearing their street, they saw green trees with some downed branches. They hoped their place had been spared. Then they rounded the corner. “Everything on our side of the street was gone. Buildings were leveled. Just ashes and the burned remains of our truck.”

The couple stayed in eight different places, then rented friends’ condo in Honolulu a few months. The Connors recently relocated to Florida to live with extended family and start a new life. The process is full of challenges.

“I tried to get my new driver’s license issued,” Lance said. “But DMV said they’d have to mail it to the address of record. But that place doesn’t exist anymore.”

Still, the couple counts blessings. “We made it out alive,” Rachel said. “Not everyone did.”

Lance just got a new job, and the family begins the work of establishing a new home.

“Everything is completely different,” Rachel said. “There is a sense of loss. But we realize the far-reaching benefits of a supportive community. People from Germany, Australia and even a church we’ve never visited in the state of Washington are helping us make a new start.”

Today's Bible verse:

"For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe," (Psalm 61:3 NIV). 


What to put in a “go bag” for emergencies:


Samaritan’s Purse (non-denominational evangelical Christian organization)

Provides spiritual and physical aid to victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ.


Photo credits: Rachel Connor