WAILUKU, Hawaii — Of all that Kimo Kirkman lost in one of the devastating fires in the island of Maui, he said surrendering his father’s ashes was the worst.
“I wanted to hold on to it forever,” he said, his voice quivering with emotion as he recalled his father Charles Francis Kirkman. “Now he’s just in the ground with all the other ashes. And that was probably the toughest.”
“That was my only prized possession,” Kirkman added. “That was it. You know, all the other stuff was, that didn’t mean anything.”
Kirkman and his wife, Steffani, were not in Lahaina when the fire, fueled by high winds, swept through the town located in the west of the island Tuesday.
Drone footage taken of the area two days later showed burned out buildings, rows of soot-covered homes and cars, and almost complete devastation of the town, which was home to 13,000 people.
Although they lost their home, Steffani Kirkman said, they were “beyond grateful” that the younger of their two daughters, who are 22 and 20, got out alive. They said their older daughter moved to South Carolina just a week ago.
Her husband said their younger daughter “was on the highway, watching everything burn, and we said, “‘Get out of there, turn around, get out of there.’”
His wife added that their daughter is a a surfer and can tread water, so they advised her to get close so she could jump into the ocean as a last resort.
“People did and that was their last option, and they still did not make it,” Kirkman said.
The U.S. Coast Guard reported that several people had been rescued after they jumped into the Pacific Ocean to escape the blaze.
While their daughter was staying with a family friend, Kirkman said, they were fearful that the family dogs had perished in the blaze.
He said he was using devices to track the animals, but on Tuesday afternoon their movements stopped. “That’s when the fire was raging and going through town,” he said.
The couple said they were praying that the animals died peacefully from smoke inhalation.
As the human death toll rose to 55, Maui County said in a statement that the Lahaina fire was 80% contained, as firefighters secured the perimeter of the wildland areas that burned. The Pulehu fire, about 20 miles east of Lahaina, was 70% contained, the statement added.
Steffani Kirkman said the front street of Lahaina was “all wooden structures and we haven’t had rain, since like, May,” so everything was dry.
The couple said that they had lived on the island for 20 years but that they were planning to move back to the mainland next month, so all their things were packed and waiting for a shipping container.
“Three weeks too late,” Steffani Kirkman said, adding that there were people who “lost so much more.”
Kirkman said they moved to Lahaina when their daughters were born, “so we could raise them in a small town.”
“It’s devastating for them, too, because they lost everything,” his wife added. “Their hometown is gone.”