When Bully and Ashley Kotter closed on their Hawaiian plantation style home in early August, they never dreamed that seven days later, it would burn down in the worst fire in modern US history.
They’d woken up that day exhausted. Surf classes had been canceled due to weather conditions, so Bully had been up late for days, working on renovations. He and Ashley tried to keep some sense of routine, but after a night of no power, 100 degree heat, and wind gusts up to 80 mph, they’d finally gotten in their car to enjoy some AC, charge phones, and take a nap.
The “brushfire” was out of mind since officials had confirmed it was contained. Plus with Hawaii boasting the largest alert system in the world, with 400 alarms, they’d know if they were at risk.
Everything changed when Ashley’s phone started buzzing with multiple texts from friends saying: “Bully and Ashley, the fire is coming towards you!”
Springing into action, they ran out of the carport only to be met with tornado force black smoke and wind. Borderline hysteria flooded over Ashley as she tried to make sense of it.
“What’s going on?” She thought. “How can the fire be at our doorstep without any alarms going off?” No Amber Alerts? No phones screaming danger! No police announcing impending doom over the intercoms?
She realized with sickening horror that they were sitting ducks in an out of control firestorm.
Bully grabbed masks he’d been using for renovations.
“Not the car, we’ll be stuck in traffic – get in the golf cart!” He yelled.
They could barely see through the fire and smoke. Everywhere they looked, a roaring blaze met them.
The roads were gridlocked. Downed power lines on both sides of town were said to be the reason. Lahaina’s citizens were trapped with charcoal sized ash pounding down on them.
The fire was everywhere – scorching their skin as they bypassed the long line of stalled cars. Some ditched their cars and jumped into the ocean. But the ocean itself seemed to be on fire. The first layer of ash formed a seal on the waterline and the second layer rested on top of it and continued to burn..
“Hang on, honey!” Bully shouted as he maneuvered their melting golf cart off-road and onto sidewalks. Countless people inside those vehicles died from asphyxiation.
Up ahead Bully saw a silent fire truck on a backroad, he drove like a madman to fall in behind it as it found a way out of town, beyond the firestorm to safety.
Bully and Ashley’s story is what nightmares are made of, but most of those who survived had a similar experience. “So many didn’t make it. People in nursing homes and apartment buildings. I know there were hundreds of people, maybe a thousand or more trapped in the fire,” Ashley says. At the time of this article, 1000 people are still missing.
Subscribe to Radical Living:
Receive updates on the latest posts as Seth Barnes covers many topics like spiritual formation, what if means to be a christian, how to pray, and more. Radical Living blog is all about a call to excellence in ministry, church, and leadership -as the hands and feet of Jesus.