Wildfires devastated parts of Maui in Hawaii last week, leaving a trail of destruction and devastation, decimating a historic town. While many still wait in agony for news on whether their friends and family are safe, more than 100 people have been pronounced dead — making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than 100 years. Here are the stories of some of those who died.
MUSICIAN UNTIL THE END
When he was younger, Buddy Jantoc toured the world playing music, his family said. Jantoc’s love of bass guitar kept him going as he grew older.
Jantoc, 79, was living in the Hale Mahaolu Eono senior housing complex when the fires tore through the town of Lahaina, KITV-TV reported Tuesday. His family learned from police that his remains were among dozens found so far.
“My papa was older, but for him to be taken from us that way, I think that’s what’s the hardest to come to terms with,” granddaughter Keshia Alaka’i told the television station. The family has also started a Facebook group dedicated to Jantoc.
Jantoc’s niece, Kawehi Paio, told The Associated Press that music was central to her uncle’s life. She recalled how he was a fixture playing music at local hotels in Lahaina and played at several schools that teach the hula dance.
“My uncle was known for playing music across the world and the island of Maui for 30-plus years,” she said, describing his home as something akin to a music store with guitars, drum sets and photos of him playing all over the place.
Paio called her uncle a “happy-go-lucky guy” whose “smile stood out. He was always smiling.”
Alaka’i recalled her daily chats with Jantoc.
“(I’ll miss) his calls for the silly stuff. Buying things for him, ordering online because he didn’t know how to work it or you know, fighting with his iPhone because I had bought him a new one he didn’t know how to work that,” she told the station.
On the Facebook page, friends and family posted photos and video of various local performances that Jantoc took part in.
“Buddy was a wonderful neighbor and remembered to wish me a happy birthday for many years. I was so worried to hear that he was missing, and very sad to hear this news,” Julie LaCroix posted on the Facebook page. “Blessings to your ohana Buddy, you touched many lives and I see you are well loved.”
DREAMING OF RETIREMENT
All Donna Hartley could think of as TV footage showed fires engulfing the town of Lahaina was her sister. But Carole Hartley wasn’t picking up her phone.
“I told my husband that if this is burned like this then Carole’s house is gone,” the 62-year-old said.
Two days later, her sister’s partner called, and the news wasn’t good. He told her that he had been in the front yard loading his car and Carole Hartley had been in the backyard, possibly checking on a tenant, when the wind fanned the flames. The car exploded.
After Carole’s partner assembled a team of friends for a search party, Donna Hartley heard the news Saturday night that he had found her sister’s remains, including her watch. She is still waiting for official DNA verification for her free-spirited little sister, who had lived in Lahaina for 36 years.
“Her birthday was August 28, and she was going to be 61 years old,” Donna Hartley said. “She kept telling me as of late … one more year sister, and I’m retiring.” Donna Hartley said her friends at home in Grand Bay, Alabama, plan on holding a memorial for Carole.
A FAMILY’S LOSS
A family of four — Faaso and Malui Fonua Tone, Salote Takafua, and her son, Tony Takafua — died while attempting to flee from the flames. Their remains were found Thursday in a burned car near their home.
“The magnitude of our grief is indescribable,” read a statement from family members.
Lylas Kanemoto, who knew the Tone family, confirmed the devastating news Sunday.
“At least we have closure for them, but the loss and heartbreak is unbearable for many. We as a community has to just embrace each other and support our families, friends, and our community to our best of our abilities,” Kanemoto told The Associated Press by text message on Sunday.
Kanemoto is still awaiting news on her cousin, Glen Yoshino, who is missing.
“I’m afraid he is gone because we have not heard from him and he would’ve found a way to contact family,” Kanemoto said. “We are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.”
‘A REALLY GOOD MAN’
Retired fire captain Geoff Bogar and his friend of 35 years, Franklin Trejos, initially stayed behind to help others in Lahaina and save Bogar’s house. But as the flames moved closer and closer Tuesday afternoon, they knew they had to flee.
Each escaped to his own car. When Bogar’s vehicle wouldn’t start, he broke through a window to get out and crawled on the ground until a police patrol found him, and he was taken to a hospital.
Trejos didn’t escape.
When Bogar returned the next day, he found the bones of his 68-year-old friend in the back seat of his car, lying on top of the remains of the Bogars’ beloved 3-year-old golden retriever Sam, whom he had tried to protect.
Trejos, a native of Costa Rica, had lived for years with Bogar and his wife, Shannon Weber-Bogar, helping her with her seizures when her husband couldn’t. He filled their lives with love and laughter.
“God took a really good man,” Weber-Bogar said.