A Maui family is sharing their experience of narrowly escaping wildfires that killed at least 106 people by jumping into the waters off Lahaina.
Noah Tomkinson, 19, and his family were fleeing the fires in their car on Tuesday when they became stuck in a traffic jam as numerous residents sought to escape the rapidly approaching blaze.
“It was starting to shoot embers down on the grass and light the very dry grass on fire,” he told CNN Monday.
“We had fires on both sides of our car.”
That’s when Noah, his brother Milo, 13, and their mother jumped into the ocean.
“The fire was at that point starting to light the buildings across the street on fire,” he added. “Our car wasn’t moving anywhere. The traffic was so bad no one was moving. We knew we had to jump in.”
The family stayed in the ocean for five hours before they climbed out and found shelter.
During that time, that had to cover their mouths to stop from inhaling smoke-laden air, and the family huddled together to keep each other warm in the wasit-deep water.
The wild fires knocked out portions of the telephone infrastructure on Maui, and Noah’s father, who lives elsewhere on the island, didn’t know the trio’s wellbeing for a harrowing period of 12 hours.
Eventually, the 19-year-old was able to crawl on top of a building to find cell phone service and call his dad. They’re now sheltering at the father’s home in Maui.
According to officials from the Honolulu section of the Coast Guard, officials rescued 17 people from the water between 8 and 9 August, while state and local agencies performed numerous other rescues.
No one, the Coast Guard said on Tuesday, has been pulled out of the water since 9 August.
As the death toll continues to climb, increasing attention is being paid to how Maui’s infrastructure appeared to have failed before and during the fires, the deadliest US wildfire in over a century.
An extensive system of natural disaster warning sirens weren’t triggered, though officials say they sent cell phone, TV, and radio-based warnings of the coming wildfires.
Fire fighters also reported that fire hydrants had little or no water pressure as first responders attempted to tackle the blaze.
Even before the fires, rapid population growth and drought conditions were combining to strain Maui’s water supplies, and the blaze melted pipes throughout the island, further depressurising the system, The New York Times reports.
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