Hawaii Wildfire: Maui vacationers from Arizona reflect on trip gone wrong

Travel demand is high at the airport in Maui, as thousands of people race to escape Maui due to the destructive wildfire there. Airlines are offering cheap flights out, and major airlines have brought in larger planes to accommodate more people, in addition to adding several additional flights.

At least 11,000 people have been evacuated off the island, and 1,500 more people are expected to leave the island on Aug. 10, as recovery efforts continue. 

Some of the people who left the island, like Nicholas Ebert, are from Arizona. Ebert was on vacation with his girlfriend in Maui, and he has returned to Phoenix.

"The first flight we were originally on was cancelled, and we didn't have cell service, so we didn't know it was cancelled at first," said Ebert.

Ebert reflected on a vacation that took a rather sudden turn for the worse. He and his girlfriend, along with everyone else in Lahaina, got a rude wake-up call at 4:00 a.m.

"We thought one of the hotels were on fire at first. Ran outside, and it was real smokey. It was insane," said Ebert. "Ran down to the beach, a lot of people were down there. No power, no electricity all day. It was pretty bad."

After eight hours at the airport, Ebert and his girlfriend finally got on a plane that was headed to Phoenix.

Also on the plane was Katy Bachman and her husband. They were in Maui to celebrate their 35th anniversary.

"We were 10 miles north of the fire. We didn't know there was a fire. All we knew is that we lost power, we had no hot water, we had no real food. We were at the Ritz Carlton. The only way we could get information was sitting in the car listening to the radio," said Bachman.

The night before the fire started, Bachman and her husband were in Lahaina. Both travelers are thankful to be back.

Another person who flew to Phoenix from Maui is Jaysen Easley.

"Totally busy. The airports are packed on Maui. Almost missed our flight because it was so busy at the terminal," said Easley.

Unlike Ebert and Bachman, Easley was born and raised on Maui, and said he works at a bar in Lahaina. He flew to Phoenix in order to help his daughter move from Hawaii to Arizona State University.

"Just a lot of devastation, just like nothing I’ve ever seen before," said Easley. "I have lots of friends and family that lost everything, actually. A bunch of friends in shelters and other family outside of Lahaina town."

Air tankers grounded as wildfire containment efforts remain ongoing

President Joe Biden has ordered Federal aid, including military helicopters carrying water-drop equipment and specialized search teams. However, larger, more powerful air tankers were grounded due to winds.

"Each and every airplane has limitations with wind, and helicopters generally do it a little better than fixed wing in high winds," said Joel Kerley, Chief Operating Officer at Ten Tanker Air Carrier. "The winds that I am hearing, 70 miles ad hour sustained, 80 mile per hour gusts, you’re not going to see anything flying out there."

Kerley said his organization has not been asked to help out yet, but they are ready to go if called upon. He said they would have to use water hydrants or even the ocean to refill, as the closest tanker base to get fire retardant is Los Angeles.

"We know that we can land in Honolulu, and we know that we can haul water. We do that all around the world, and water is better than nothing. It's not as good as retardant, but water is better than nothing," said Kerley.