Naperville’s Tim Pabich shares his experience of the Maui wildfires

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After the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century, the historic town of Lahaina, Hawaii now sits in ruins.

Maui Wildfires destroy thousands of buildings

Hawaii Governor Josh Green said that a value of $5.6 billion has been lost, with more than 2,700 structures destroyed. As of Monday afternoon, the death toll stood at 99, and is expected to rise.

Naperville resident and Magnitech CEO Tim Pabich was only a couple of miles away when the fires began spreading. He and his wife have a timeshare in Maui and frequently visit the island.

“We started falling in love with the place. Great places on Front Street, lots of art galleries and shops, and really good dining, and you’re overlooking the water,” said Pabich. “It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth.”

Tim Pabich’s view of the fires

But on Tuesday, August 8, the beauty of the ocean was quickly overlooked by what was happening in Lahaina. From Pabich’s vantage point, black smoke started to fill the air and as every minute passed, the cloud got bigger. 

When dusk hit, he and other spectators saw the flames quickly engulf everything in their path.

“It looked like a refinery stack, you just saw fire coming from people’s homes, roofs, houses, businesses, cars. It was like a war zone, like a nuke hit the place. I’d never seen anything like it,” Pabich said.

Officials say Maui has had some fire problems in the past, but they would get contained fairly quickly. But Pabich says he’s noticed the island get drier over the years. 

“Even then some of the locals would say, ‘Hey, it’s really dry, we’ve had some brush fires,’ things like that,” said Pabich. “But there were never any threats to homes or businesses or people. It was pretty well-contained up the mountains. And I noticed that even this time we got there and it was really brown and just dry.”

Left in the dark

During the wildfire Pabich, along with thousands of others, lost power, in addition to cell service. Resorts were doing everything they could to feed and take care of their guests, most of whom had no idea what was actually happening in Lahaina.

“You guys had more information of what happened in Lahaina than I did. All I got to do was watch it, but I didn’t know what the coverage was, I didn’t know how bad it was. We didn’t hear any messaging from the governor, we didn’t hear any messaging from the President, we didn’t hear anything. Like we were left in the dark, literally,” Pabich said.

The road to recovery

Through it all, Pabich says he couldn’t imagine what the natives of Lahaina were going through. A town with deep history and cultural importance, swept away by a wave of inferno.

“To put it into perspective: like, no matter what’s going on in my life or in my business, it pales in comparison to what this was for these people. It can always be worse. You know, put it all into perspective. You know, we get caught up sometimes in our own world and our own problems and what we’re going through, and then this happens, it changes you.”

Donations to help survivors and the town of Lahaina can be made on the American Red Cross Facebook page, or the Hawaii Community Foundation website.

Photo Courtesy: Tim Pabich

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