How does the human spirit evolve during a massive disaster like the Maui Wildfires? It’s not really a question that can be definitively answered because each person is like a snowflake, different in every way except the basic elements that makes up its body.

However, in Hawaii, there is a concept that is known as “The Aloha Spirit” that binds together the people of the tropical state.

A St. George family saw firsthand what “The Aloha Spirit” truly means during one of the most devastating wildfires in modern U.S. history.

Dr. Robert Rose is a hospitalist who was attending a marriage conference on the island of Maui. He decided to bring his family consisting of his wife and four of his kids who were on the last week of their summer break.

They arrived in Maui on August 4, and their flight to leave was scheduled for August 11. A weeklong vacation in paradise, but if you know of what’s coming, then you know paradise was about to become something more akin to Inferno for many of the residents.

The first three days of the trip were what you would expect from a trip to Hawaii. Beaches, sunbathing, surfing, and eating incredible food.

Photo Credit: Robert Rose. Taken on Aug. 8, 10:40 a.m. at Banyan Tree Court Park
Photo Credit: Robert Rose. Taken on Aug. 8, 10:40 a.m. at Banyan Tree Court Park

Things were going smoothly until the Rose family started hearing reports of Hurricane Dora making its way toward the island, bringing strong winds to the area.

Dr. Rose said, “I don’t think we’d turned on the TV the entire trip. So, the weather report just came from the surfers, and they let us know that Monday [August 7] would get a little bit windy and then Tuesday [August 8] was going to be windier. Until the first time we checked the weather for the wind on Tuesday, that was the first time we ever heard of Hurricane Dora.”

Dr. Rose was told it wasn’t supposed to be much of an issue since the brunt of the storm was predicted to miss Maui for the most part, only bringing winds into the area.

The family returned to their hotel just 2 miles North of the town of Lahaina on August 7 to turn in for the night.

The family woke up on the morning of August 8 to the wind in full force, awakened by howling gusts.

Dr. Rose said, “About 5 o clock in the morning, because of the wind, we were getting ready and then that [the wind] knocked the power out of our hotel. So we went down to the front desk, kind of checked in with them, and there were a lot of people down there just because of the power outage.”

The wind blew off some of the metal roofing off the hotel, and traffic was built up bad due to the amount of people escaping from Lahaina.

The Rose family decided to leave the hotel and just drive around the island to kill some time. This would be the last time they would see the hotel. Their passports, ID’s, and luggage are still in their hotel room to this day.

After driving around and seeing some more sights, the Rose family attempted to return to the hotel only to be told there was an evacuation order for Lahaina, and that there was no way they were going to be allowed back at the hotel.

Dr. Rose then went to the local Target to grab some T-Shirts and other amenities for his family because they were planning to sleep in their rented car for the night, and all they had in terms of clothes were their swimsuits.

The Rose family then learned of a shelter that was being set up in Maui High School for those looking for a place to stay the night. When they arrived, they found that the Red Cross hadn’t arrived yet and they were making do with what they had on hand.

By around 11 p.m. on August 8, Dr. Rose said there were hundreds of people taking shelter in the high school. Some of the residents were covered in soot and ash with no home to return to.

Photo Credit: Robert Rose. Taken on Aug. 9, 12:27 a.m. at the Maui High School shelter.
Photo Credit: Robert Rose. Taken on Aug. 9, 12:27 a.m. at the Maui High School shelter.

Dr. Rose was extremely impressed and grateful with how kind and considerate the people were in that shelter.

Dr. Rose said, “It was just kind of all the families at Maui High School started bringing in whatever they had for the people that were kind of refugees that night in the high school. Throughout the night, they brought in like towels from their houses and put those on my kids while they were sleeping and brought in whatever food they had.”

Leftover dinner from that evening, open bags of caramel popcorn, and whatever the residents could offer were brought to the shelter at Maui High School.

Some brought pool mattresses and other types of cushioning to help make the stay as comfortable as possible for whoever needed it most.

Some of the residents set up a TV to receive updates on the fire in Lahaina, and that’s when they heard the mayor of Lahaina give the tragic news.

“They showed us pictures that I thought were pictures of lava flow in Hawaii. It didn’t look like anything except for glowing embers. Then the mayor came on and said, ‘the town of Lahaina is gone’ is what he was quoted as saying.”

The Rose family slept on the gym floor, unsure about what the next day would bring.

Morning came, and the family was still not allowed to go to their hotel to retrieve their things.

Dr. Rose said one of the issues was that there was no place where they could actually understand what was happening on Maui.

Dr. Rose said, “We actually went to the airport that morning to get more information, and one of the problems was there just wasn’t a central place to get any information. We’d scroll through the radio stations and there was nothing giving up to date news or any information.”

As the Rose family travelled around the island, they found places like Costco were filled to the brim with people trying to get what they needed to make it through this disaster.

The family sat on the beach, wondering what to do next. After wandering some more, getting more supplies, and waiting for the roads to open back up, the family went back to the beach to shower.

That’s when they ran into a group of men in their 70’s who were a part of a local canoe club. One of the men was named Traci Stice, a local farm owner who noticed the family was in need of assistance.

Dr. Rose said, “He’s like, 'you guys look like you have nowhere to go. Where are you sleeping tonight?’”

Dr. Rose was reluctant to receive any help because he didn’t want to put his family in any danger.

Stice offered the Roses a place to stay on his farm with warm beds, a shower, and even a washing machine. After careful consideration among the family, they decided to take the man up on his offer.

Traci Stice drove a beat-up truck with a broken window. Gas tanks sat in the bed of the truck with Stice telling Dr. Rose that he needed it for equipment on the farm…including his chainsaw.

Dr. Rose said while chuckling, “That made us all a little bit nervous, maybe this won’t turn out well with him, but he was a super great guy.”

Stice’s farm was a couple miles down the road in the town of Haiku where he grew ti leaves, which are used for things like hula dancing.

It was dark when the Rose family settled in at Stice���s farm, but when they woke up in the morning, the Rose family thought they were in paradise.

Photo Credit: Robert Rose. Taken on Aug. 10 at Uncle Traci's farm.
Photo Credit: Robert Rose. Taken on Aug. 10 at Uncle Traci's farm.

Dr. Rose said, “We wake up, and it looked like the Garden of Eden. It was just the most lush, beautiful farm you’ve ever seen.”

Even though the farm had primarily been selling ti leaves for hula skirts, the farm also had various produce growing like avocados and lychees among other fruits and vegetables.

Photo Credit: Robert Rose. Taken on Aug. 10 at Uncle Traci's farm.
Photo Credit: Robert Rose. Taken on Aug. 10 at Uncle Traci's farm.

Dr. Rose said, “So that day, he had my kids do chores on the farm, and so they were harvesting fruit like lychees which are now all their favorite fruit. They harvested lychees and mangoes and fresh oranges and bananas, and he just gave them a tour of the farm. That was all their favorite part of the trip.”

Stice asked the kids to call him Uncle Traci, which was the custom for the area, and the kids were all too happy to oblige.

Photo Credit: Robert Rose. Taken on Aug. 10 at Uncle Traci's farm.
Photo Credit: Robert Rose. Taken on Aug. 10 at Uncle Traci's farm.

Stice had a daughter who was staying at the farm. She was a police officer in the area, and that meant she was at the forefront of the wildfire recovery effort.

Dr. Rose said, “We didn’t see much of her, but you know, we kind of heard that when she came home, she was just devastated and not really able to talk about the day that she’d gone through. She knew she was going to be working long 12 hours days from here on out.”

The last two days of the Rose family’s trip to Hawaii was experiencing the true meaning of “The Aloha Spirit.”

Dr. Rose said that through all of the disaster and turmoil, the residents never turned a blind eye to those who needed it.

When the family finally made it back home, their thoughts were still with the people inhabiting Maui.

Even in the middle of such a tumultuous period for the Hawaiian people, the hospitality was like nothing they’ve ever felt before. It was one of the most devastating wildfires in U.S. history, and yet the people were looking out for their neighbors before looking out for themselves.

The family’s trip began with a typical Hawaiian vacation, but even after sleeping on a gym floor, being stranded from their hotel without their things, and taking a risk with a man and his chainsaw, the family’s favorite part of the trip was working with their generous Uncle Traci on that beautiful farm.

To answer the question at the beginning of this article, does the human spirit evolve in the midst of a disaster? I have no clue, but if “The Aloha Spirit” is involved, then I think it’s possible to push through anything.


GALLERY: Maui Devastated By Wildfires

Gallery Credit: Chaz

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