What’s important? What do I really need?
Sam Younger, a 2001 Hudson High School graduate, found himself asking those questions as he and his wife Josie quickly circulated around their West Maui home Aug. 24 to collect valuables. Police had just ordered them to evacuate due to an approaching brush fire, a function of Hurricane Lane’s recent wrath.
Younger said it was a "weird feeling" to walk into his home thinking they had to "grab what we could in the next two minutes. We have to go, we could lose everything else."
And they had to prioritize.
"We tried to grab the things that are really most sentimental to us and important such as passports, birth certificates, things like that," said Younger, who has lived in West Maui for nearly 10 years and co-owns a scuba diving business with his wife, Sammy Scuba Diving. The couple just married in March.
Younger said he and Josie exited their house in the town of Lahaina about 2 a.m., put their dog, Kona Bean, in the truck, grabbed some water, and drove away "with the thought [that] our house was going to burn."
The couple was not injured and they were able to return to their undamaged home several hours later thanks to what Younger called the "remarkable" work done by firefighters.
Interestingly, the Youngers had prepared for an emergency that involved hunkering down in their home rather than leaving it. Leading up to Aug. 24, the couple along with their neighbors in Lahaina, had prepared for Hurricane Lane, which Younger said was initially classified as a Category 5 hurricane and was expected to "take a turn into [Southern and Western] Maui."
They bought dry goods and water, and many of their neighbors boarded up windows and put out sandbags in front of their doors. He said they expected to be without power for "multiple days." As the storm drew closer, it was expected to be a Category 3 hurricane, he said.
"We were bracing for pretty much the strongest hurricane to hit Hawaii in 20 years," said Younger. He said the hurricane "slowly weakened" as it got closer to Maui, and "ended up dissipating into a tropical storm by the time it got blown out away from Hawaii."
"We just got a lot of winds," said Younger, who added the storm "never really technically, hit land."
Though the hurricane did not reach them, Younger said on Aug. 23, high winds knocked down power lines, sparking a brush fire in an area that had seen very little rain. The blaze spread quickly due to the heavy winds. He believes the threatening fire started at about 10 p.m., but then grew larger as the hours passed into the night.
When he went to bed close to midnight on Aug. 23, Younger said he noticed a "[burning] smell in the air," but added he wasn’t concerned because brush fires happen on the island from time to time. He awoke at around 1:30 a.m. Aug. 24 to a "very strong smell" of smoke, phones ringing and an ominously orange sky filled with smoke.
Younger said he and Josie rode their bikes up a road to look around and could see the fire was a couple hundred yards from their home. Many people were outside of their homes looking at the fire and talking with one another.
"This was the biggest fire I’ve ever seen," said Younger.
They returned to their house to find police officers out of their cruisers moving down the street ordering everyone in the neighborhood to evacuate.
After gathering their belongings, the Youngers drove away from town and ended up parking on the side of a hill and watched for a couple hours as the fire spread through Lahaina.
Younger said "it was pretty much chaos," with the power going out, traffic lights not working and people leaving their homes to drive away from the fire.
"Luckily, everybody was very calm, " said Younger. "Everybody was very unified. There wasn’t panic." Younger said that while he and Josie felt uneasy at times during the evacuation, they never feared for their safety.
But the irony of preparing for a heavy storm and instead seeing a conflagration move through town — and praying that precipitation would move through to assist the firefighters — was not lost on the Youngers.
After the blaze began heading in their direction and the air filled with smoke, the Youngers drove north to a friend’s house where they stayed for a couple hours, but evacuated after they smelled smoke and saw a house on fire right behind them.
They arrived back at their thankfully undamaged home at 7:30 a.m. and hosed it off, said Younger. Their house is about 300 yards from a highway, and the fire never crossed the highway.
Rain that fell during the next couple of days — the remnants of Lane — helped extinguish the remaining hot spots, according to Younger.
He said he believed five homes burned, and praised the firefighters for their work to preserve the properties in an ordeal that he believes could’ve caused much more damage.
"The firemen did an incredible job," said Younger, who said he and Josie were without power for about four days.
There were families who lost their homes, and Younger said fundraising efforts are happening through GoFundMe pages and community events.
Before they evacuated, Younger said he texted with his mom, Inge Orendt, of Hudson, to say they were prepared for the hurricane. When they were finally able to send text messages again, Younger told his mother what happened and said his sister thought he was joking about evacuating due to a fire.
Orendt said Lahaina is a big tourist town, but said the areas where tourists stay were not significantly affected by the fire.
"If it had really hit the tourist area, his business would’ve been in trouble," said Orendt.
As harrowing of an ordeal as it was, Younger laughed when he recalled how much Kona Bean enjoyed his late night adventure, driving around Maui in the middle of the night, running around a golf course (the friend they visited lives on a golf course) and meeting new people.
"She just had the night of her life," said Younger.
As he reflected on the experience, Younger thought back to the moment when they were ordered to evacuate.
"When I was looking around the house, looking at things to take, it really put it in perspective on how all this is just stuff and none of this stuff around the house mattered at all," said Younger. "Looking around, [I’m thinking] ‘I don’t care about this, I don’t care about that.’
"Let’s go. Who cares about all this stuff? We’re safe. We’re secure."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.