Man tells of ‘crisis mode’ to locate family caught up in wildfires on Hawaii

Stephen Lee, who lives in the UK, spent hours seeking confirmation that his brother and mother were safe.

PA Reporters
Tuesday 15 August 2023 14:08 BST
Stephen Lee finally managed to located his mother and brother on the fire-ravaged island (Stephen Lee/PA)
Stephen Lee finally managed to located his mother and brother on the fire-ravaged island (Stephen Lee/PA)

A man living in the UK has spoken of going into “crisis mode” trying to locate his mother and brother after their homes were destroyed in the wildfires in Hawaii.

The death toll from the fires now stands at 99, with hundreds of people still missing.

Stephen Lee, who is originally from California but is now resident in the UK, was one of thousands of people seeking confirmation of safety of their loved ones as the blaze tore through the Lahaina area of west Maui.

His mother Dolores and brother Eric have been living in Lahaina for more than 10 and 15 years respectively.

Mr Lee said that when he first heard news of the fires, he was not immediately concerned as they occur with some frequency in the area, but his mood changed as he realised the true extent of the disaster.

It's such a community-driven culture, it's a family-first culture, and all the aid has been remarkable

Stephen Lee

He said: “I started getting text messages from friends and then I turn on the news and I was just like, ‘oh my God, I cannot believe what’s happening.’

“That was a little bit later on Wednesday (August 9), when I was working and I was just full-on, operation get in contact with my mum and brother, frantically calling my brother. I mean, it was at least 100 calls.”

Unable to get hold of his family, Mr Lee said: “That’s when my concern was heightened. I was a little bit more in panic mode.

“I wasn’t able to get in contact with my brother that whole first day until that night. That’s when I found out that Lahaina was completely destroyed.”

When he was able to speak to his brother, Mr Lee found he was fine but was in “crisis mode” as they both attempted to confirm the whereabouts of their mother.

“Your mind goes really dark. You think of the worst case scenario,” he said.

Earlier this week, governor of Hawaii Josh Green said that as phone services on the island had been restored, the number of people missing had fallen from more than 2,000 to around 1,300.

In his efforts to locate his mother, Mr Lee said he used Facebook groups that were posting handwritten lists of people that had been rescued from areas hit by the fires.

“Your mind is racing, you go to a really dark place and you just want to think as pragmatic and as solution-based as possible,” he said.

“You get a crash course in crisis management real quick. There’s no time to be emotional but just need to apply action, based on all the limited information you have and hope that that’s the right move, and it was very dark.

“I’m just one of many families who are in this situation. Where they are on an island, who have been completely displaced and lost everything.”

In the early hours of Friday, Mr Lee received confirmation that his mother is safe, and had been taken in by a local volunteer.

He said the community on the island had come together to help those impacted by the fires.

“That’s just a testament that I want to really reiterate here, about a sense of aloha spirit, you’re going to hear a lot of this talked about,” he said.

People that have been to Hawaii before, have been grateful enough to go to these beautiful islands, will know what that feeling is like within the first five minutes of stepping off the plane.

“The sense of aloha and the art of practising aloha means having an open heart, having an open mind, showing kindness through action, and choosing to love in every moment, and behaving with love, and respect for others.

“It’s no wonder why what you see right now shouldn’t be any surprise for at least myself and for others, because it’s such a community-driven culture, it’s a family-first culture, and all the aid has been remarkable.”

Mr Lee has started a GoFundMe page to raise money for his mother and brother, whose home he said has been reduced to ash.

“It’s just what you would see at the end of a fireplace, it was just ash, there was nothing standing aside from a few bricks and so they have absolutely nothing.

“They have the clothes on their back, and a few donations from close friends in the terms of change of clothes.

“It’s the closest thing I have a familiarity that I would consider home outside of the UK, and when you close your eyes and you think of your happiest place on earth, it was Lahaina, it was West Maui.

“And now to think – the state of shock and turmoil and destruction that this fire has caused, it just leaves you with a really sick feeling in your stomach.

“Being so distant and feeling so powerless, it’s my duty and responsibility, I feel, to create this GoFundMe and generate a sense of urgency, to help fund my mum and my brother who have completely lost everything, to give them the highest probable chance and restart a life that now has been lost.”

The GoFundMe page is available at

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