Locals recall terrifying experience of Maui fires

'There is nothing left': Locals share terrifying experiences in Maui wildfires
'There is nothing left': Locals share terrifying experiences in Maui wildfires
Published: Aug. 15, 2023 at 10:35 PM CDT
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JACKSON COUNTY, Mo. (KCTV) - The death toll in Hawaii has now surpassed 100 following the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century.

Authorities said about 1,000 people remain unaccounted for and crews have only scoured about a quarter of the search area so far.

“Went down to college in Branson, Missouri, and after I got out of college, I moved out to Hawaii,” said Belton native Justin Wilfong.

For the last 10 years, Wilfong has been living on the Maui Island of Lahaina with his wife Monica.

“You can walk down Front Street, and everybody knows everybody,” says Wilfong.

Last week, they said the unthinkable happened.

“I went out, I noticed a plume of smoke just kind of coming over and it was getting darker and darker, it actually started to cover the sun,” Wilfong recalled.

He ran back into his house and told his wife and daughter they had to leave.

“My daughter was in the car, and she was asking so many questions and my mind was racing a mile a minute, I just began to pray out loud with her,” said Justin’s wife, Monica Wilfong.

“We thought we were going to be back, we didn’t even bring our wedding rings with us,” Justin said.

Days later when they returned, their home was gone.

“There was a rock wall outside of our house and the rock wall stood, you can tell where our bedroom was but there is nothing left,” they said.

Phil Hopper, the lead Pastor of Abundant Life Church was on a family vacation in Maui when the fires broke out.

“We didn’t know what was going on for sure but the roads out of town were shut down. Nobody could go anywhere, and nobody knew what to do, a completely chaotic situation,” said Hopper.

Hopper said he immediately began working to try to help those impacted by connecting his church group back in KC with a church in Hawaii.

“We were able to immediately respond as part of the grassroots relief efforts and our church was able to purchase water, food, and a lot of supplies,” Hopper said.

The love and support from KC have been coming in all directions. Justin’s parents -- who started a GoFundMe for their recovery -- have seen a large amount of support as they try to rebuild.

“Whenever you have nothing, to see everybody helping out with a little something, I wish I could just reach out and give everyone a hug,” Justin said.

“Thank you is not enough, it doesn’t feel like enough because we have been using it so much,” said Monica.

If you would like to help the Wilfong’s in their recovery you can donate to their GoFundMe Page. You can also help support people impacted by the fires through the American Red Cross.