When Monica Loui looked out over the restaurant and inn that her family had owned for decades, she saw a victim of the warming planet.
The house, made of redwood, that she used for storage had been reduced to a jumble of concrete blocks, its furniture charred beyond recognition. On the hill beside the restaurant, blackened tree carcasses were strewn atop still-smoldering soil. And across the street, a hovering Fire Department helicopter drowned out conversation as it dropped water on hot spots.
“With climate change, the seasons are changing,” said Ms. Loui, who runs Kula Sandalwoods Inn & Cafe with her siblings in the hilly Upcountry of central Maui. She said fires had never been a big worry, but now “the dryness is a lot longer and a lot earlier.”
“The moisture in the air — we don’t have the rain patterns that we used to.”
The Kula area avoided the total devastation seen in Lahaina, a 35-mile drive to the west, where dozens of people died and building after building was destroyed. But the damage in Kula was significant all the same. On Friday, three days after the fire started, crews in Kula continued to deal with flare-ups as the thick smell of smoke choked the air. The landscape was a study in contrasts: A burnt-out building next to another with no visible damage, verdant forests giving way to smoky fields of blackness.
Back on Tuesday, Ms. Loui said she had been indoors working on new curtains for her rental cottages, popular among visitors to nearby Haleakala National Park, when she stepped out to investigate what sounded like a falling tree.
“Instead of finding any tree falling,” she said, “all I saw was smoke.”
Ms. Loui, whose parents started Sandalwoods more than 30 years ago, spent the next hours in a frantic fight against nature.
“Hose, stick, shovel — anything that we could use” to beat back the flames, said Ms. Loui, who is in her 60s. But as the flames continued to build, she said, “I’m coming to the reality that we might lose this place.”
She said a Fire Department official came and told her about what had happened across the island — “This section of Lahaina is gone, this section is gone, this section is gone” — and implored her to leave while she still could.
“The battalion chief, he saved our life,” Ms. Loui said. “He came up and said, ‘There’s going to be a time. Don’t be heroes. You’re doing a great job protecting the property lines and keeping down the hot spots, but anything can change in a second.’”
As the flames closed in, she made it to safety in a police squad car while the officer yelled at others to evacuate immediately.
As she fled, Ms. Loui feared all of Sandalwoods would be destroyed. When the flames subsided, she returned to something still awful but less dire. The storage building was a complete loss. The backside of the restaurant sustained damage, but the building was intact. The rental cottages were smoky and in need of significant repairs, but they were still standing, too.
Ms. Loui said she saw the fire as further evidence that “climate change is real; this doesn’t happen for no reason.” Federal scientists have warned that climate change poses numerous risks to Hawaii, including increased potential for wildfires, threats to the water supply and coastal erosion.
At Sandalwoods, Ms. Loui said she was now reconsidering energy use and thinking about switching away from propane-fueled appliances in the restaurant. But she also saw a need for societal-level shifts, like restoring forests, planting native vegetation and growing more food locally.
“You hopefully vote in smart politicians that can effect change with their policies,” she said as firefighters continued to work nearby. “And you get involved.”