Whenever she went anywhere with Franklin Trejos, Lahaina resident Shannon Weber-Bogar knew what to expect: an outing filled with seemingly endless stops so Trejos could check in on all of his friends.
“I would get so irritated with him because we’d go to the store and he’d have to stop and say hi to everyone and ask how they’re doing, and their families,” Weber-Bogar said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Just the friendliest guy you would ever meet.”
Trejos, 68, is one of at least 99 victims confirmed dead from wildfires that devastated the Maui town of Lahaina last week, with the death toll still expected to rise, according to Hawaii officials.
A longtime friend of Weber-Bogar and her husband, Geoff Bogar, Trejos lived with the couple in their Lahaina home. As the flames drew closer to the neighborhood, Trejos and Bogar took it upon themselves to evacuate as many people as they could, Weber-Bogar said, then stayed behind to try to save the house.
When the blaze started racing straight toward them, the two men ran to their cars to escape, said Weber-Bogar, who has been out of town caring for her mom. On the way to his car, Trejos grabbed Sam, the couple’s 3-year-old golden retriever whom he adored and considered to be his own, she said.
Bogar’s car wouldn’t start, so he broke out of a window and crawled to safety, suffering numerous burns. The following day, Bogar went back to look for Trejos.
Inside Trejos’ car, Bogar found his friend’s body draped over Sam’s. Both had died in the fire.
“He must have seen what was happening, just crawled into the hatchback with him and laid down on top of him,” Weber-Bogar said. “There’s more of Sam left than there was of Frank.”
Weber-Bogar’s home was destroyed completely. She has no idea where she and her husband will live now, but she said it won’t feel the same without Trejos, who worked with her husband more than 30 years ago and came to their house “like a stray puppy and stayed with us ever since.”
“It’s weird to wake up without him,” she said, adding that her two children grew up referring to Trejos as Uncle Frank. “There’s no way to say what a great guy he is.”
A lengthy recovery effort
Officials say the wind-whipped wildfires in Maui are the deadliest in modern U.S. history, surpassing the toll from the 2018 Camp Fire in California that killed 85 people. The cause is still under investigation.
The wildfires did not trigger outdoor local or state emergency warning sirens, prompting scrutiny over whether enough advanced notice was given to residents who had to run for their lives.
In Lahaina, recovery efforts continued Tuesday, with finding and identifying victims expected to be a lengthy process. As of Monday searchers and cadaver dogs had combed through only about a quarter of the town, officials said, and scores of people remained unaccounted for: Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said Monday that there were 1,300 people still unaccounted for, a number that is expected to fluctuate as cellphone service is restored.
“We need patience, we need prayers and we need perseverance,” Maui Police Chief John Pelletier told NBC News’ Tom Llamas. “And we need the community to understand that we are doing everything we can as quickly as possible.”
Pelletier urged anyone still looking for relatives to submit a DNA sample to help identify people as families anxiously waited for news.
“It’s still much of a hangnail,” said Randy Yoshino, the nephew of missing Lahaina resident Glenn Yoshino. “There’s actually no definite closure.”
Lahaina resident Tiare Lawrence said she has several friends who are still missing and found out recently that her cousin had died.
“We’re living our worst nightmare,” Lawrence said.