A Maui wedding photographer has been rallying efforts to get information out about the devasting fires that razed the historic town of Lahaina to the ground earlier this week. The fire has literally destroyed the entire urban area, and so far, 99 people have been confirmed dead. Many more are missing, and thousands of others have lost everything.
Local photographer Aaron Najera watched in disbelief as clients, colleagues, and friends have been left “in despair” after the fires. Through his videos and updates, Najeera provides a firsthand look at the impact on communities and the extraordinary efforts of individuals coming together to provide aid and support.
The crisis began on August 8th, as three wildfires erupted across the island. The Lahaina region, a cherished and historical area, suffered significant damage, with iconic landmarks reduced to ash. In an emotional video message, Najera describes the devastating effects on homes, businesses, and historical sites, leaving neighbourhoods and families shattered.
The catastrophe was exacerbated by the passing of Hurricane Dora, which, despite being downgraded to a Category 3 storm, unleashed strong winds and further chaos upon the already beleaguered island. Lahaina, a coastal town of 12,000 people, faced the brunt of the disaster, with over 1,000 homes and structures destroyed and a rising death toll. The loss of historical buildings and artefacts compounds the tragedy, as these sites held significant cultural and historical value for the island.
Lahaina, once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom and home to several important landmarks, has been severely impacted. Najera vividly describes the shocking aftermath, with entire streets and neighbourhoods reduced to ashes. Residents have been left without power and cell reception, making communication and coordination even more challenging.
“The town of Lahaina was a hub for business, local people and tourism. It’s completely gone,” Najera tells DIYP. “Entire neighbourhoods gone. Building structures completely levelled. The emergency sirens never went off to let people know to evacuate.”
“Right now, the death count is at 99, but everyone knows, local people and medical professionals I’ve talked to, that the count will surely surpass 400,” Najera adds grimly.
Najera is determined to spread awareness and support, so he took action to share images and updates to raise awareness globally. In his heartfelt videos, he conveys the urgency of the situation and highlights the crucial need for financial contributions. He has provided a list of reputable organizations, such as the Maui United Way, Maui Food Bank, Maui Mutual Aid, and the Hawaii Community Fund, where concerned individuals can offer monetary assistance.
The community response has been overwhelming as locals and volunteers rally to provide aid, distribute essential supplies, and offer solace to those affected. Donations of food, water, and other necessities poured in from across the island and beyond, with organizations and individuals uniting in the face of adversity.
Najera documented a poignant moment when he joined a vessel transporting essential items to the West Side, an area particularly hard-hit by the wildfires. The crew worked tirelessly to ensure that much-needed supplies reached those in need. The video captures the emotional interactions between volunteers and recipients, reflecting the unity and compassion that have emerged during this crisis.
“I got to speak to one of the local residents, and he told me that he was grateful for everything that the boats brought over,” says Najera. “He confessed that it was hard for him to talk about the loss of his family’s house,” he continues. Indeed, over 4,500 people have been displaced or are without homes or shelter.
“We are doing our best to fight back the tears in order to work and give our best effort to those who really lost everything,” Aaron tells DIYP candidly. “We are all thinking of things we can do.”
Amid this tragedy, the resilience of the Maui community shines through. Photographers like Aaron Najera exemplify the spirit of solidarity and support, reminding us that even in the face of adversity, acts of kindness and generosity can make a profound difference. As the island embarks on a long journey of recovery and rebuilding, the outpouring of donations, volunteer efforts, and international solidarity provide a glimmer of hope in the midst of a dark chapter.
“It’s also been incredible to see the outpouring of love shown by everyone around the world,” says Aaron, “Your comments and words of encouragement impact every single one of us.”
But of course, kind words aren’t enough at this critical time. “The biggest need right now is financial donations,” explains Najera. “We no longer need clothes donated, the top most requested items are money, fuel, propane, generators, and batteries. Then, of course, food, hygiene products, diapers, etc.”
Donations can be made to the Maui United Way, Maui Food Bank, Maui Mutual Aid, and the Hawaii Community Fund, as well as Aaron’s GoFundMe that he has set up for the community. For more information and ways to help, visit Aaron Najera’s website and Instagram.