By Anne Marie Fowler
Cody Enterprise Via Wyoming News Exchange 

Cody woman in Maui shares experience of evacuating from wildfire


August 17, 2023


Sarah Andre (center back) at the Pacific Birth Collective assisting with donations.

CODY - As wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui continue to destroy historical land and the lives of its inhabitants, one former Cody resident shares her experience and issues a call for assistance.

Sarah Andre, a lifelong resident of Cody, recently moved to Maui to pursue a position as an au pair after graduating from Central Wyoming College with a degree in health science.

Just a few months later, a series of brush fires on the island converged and resulted in several raging wildfires that razed the historic town of Lahaina and burned surrounding areas. National reporting has confirmed 93 current deaths with many more expected. It is one of the deadliest natural disasters in Hawaiian history.

With multiple wildfires nearby in Paia, Makawao, and Kula, what locals refer to as Upcountry Maui, Andre and her host parents, Sam and Dustin Tantillo, were advised to expect to evacuate late last Tuesday evening from their town of Kehei, population 20,000, in the southern portion of Maui.

A fire had been reported in north Kehei about a mile from their home. Around midnight, when the evacuation orders were given, they left to stay with the Tantillo's grandparents in the southern part of Kehei but were able to return home early the next morning.

Since then, they have become a center of support for those fleeing the fires.

Andre's host parents have welcomed family members from Lahaina after they suffered the loss of their entire home. Ben and Natalie Yrizarry, along with their three-month old, Nate, had little time to escape the encroaching fires, leaving only with what they were wearing.

Andre described the panic of trying to make contact with the Yrizarrys during the Lahaina evacuation because "cell phone towers were down" and it was impossible to reach any friends or family from the area.

She also reported that "people were . . . jumping the ocean walk into the water to try to escape the embers. Cars and boats and gas stations were exploding. There was just no way to get a handle on this fire."

Close family friends are also staying with them.

Andre believes that she has "definitely been put here for a reason."

She further explained that she "came into this community three months ago with the intent of joining the community, and everywhere I can, and learning about the culture, the history, and now this is just another opportunity to put myself into the community and help."

Andre also explained that while she has not acquired a deep connection to the land yet, she and many others have a "sense of survivor's guilt" and she is doing what she can to help.

Sarah is using the skills she learned while in college in her role as a volunteer at the Pacific Coast Birth Collective in Haiku, Maui while she awaits confirmation to join Red Cross efforts.

She and others spend their days accepting donations, organizing and sorting through them, and then delivering them where needed. They are in most need of clothing, diapers, formula, and tarps but are also requesting monetary donations.

When asked how she is navigating the stress and challenges of the wildfires, witnessing the devastation of the island, and ensuring her safety and resilience, she said, "I genuinely feel . . . lucky to be where I am. It was scary at first . . . because there was so much uncertainty. We didn't know how far the fire had spread. We didn't know where our loved ones were."

Andre explained that the belief in aloha has been the most significant factor for her and the impacted communities during this experience and she advocates for prayers, donations, and continued support for the long-term.

Support can be sent to the following places:

Yrizarry family:

Pacific Coast Birth Collective: Amazon orders can also be sent to this organization. DM Pacific Birth Collective to get the shipping address.

Red Cross: Text the word HAWAII to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

This story was published on August 14, 2023.


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