Maui Wildfires Leave Families in Limbo as Search for Loved Ones Continues

Tim Laborte returned to his native Maui with a backpack full of posters, desperately searching for his stepfather who went missing in the devastating wildfires that swept through a historic Hawaiian town. The fires, which occurred on August 8, have claimed the lives of at least 114 people on the island. However, the majority of victims remain unidentified, leaving families like Laborte’s in a state of uncertain grief.

Laborte arrived at a volunteer-run aid distribution site in a park near Lahaina, where he asked for guidance on where to put up a missing person sign. Authorities have established a whiteboard at the site, titled “Looking For Someone?”, where individuals can add the names of their missing loved ones. Laborte added his stepfather’s name, Joseph Lara, to the list.

Families have been directed to a nearby hotel, where they can officially report their missing relatives and provide DNA samples to aid in identification. Despite the grim reality, some like Laborte choose to hold on to hope. Leslie Hiraga, a volunteer at the aid distribution site, acknowledged Laborte’s optimism but also expressed her own certainty about the fate of her childhood friend, Toni Molina, who was also listed as missing. Molina was last heard from while sheltering in Lahaina on the night of August 8.

Laborte, who had flown in from Oʻahu to assist in the search for his stepfather, filled out a missing-people form with Lara’s address and other details. As he did so, he learned that Molina lived just a few doors down from Lara. Laborte displayed a missing poster of his stepfather, depicting him with a small dog named ‘Haupia,’ and hung it on a wall.

Laborte had received a report from someone claiming to have seen Lara at a market near Lahaina after the fires broke out. However, he remained uncertain about its credibility. Additional information provided by Hiraga dampened Laborte’s mood, as she mentioned that some people who had managed to evacuate were sent back and had not been seen since. Nevertheless, Laborte continued his search the next day, determined to hang more missing person posters in shop windows.

The wildfires have left the community in a state of agonizing uncertainty, as families await news of their missing loved ones’ fates while clinging to hope.