Utahn returns after losing his home in Maui fire, contemplates next steps

Aug 11, 2023, 10:28 PM | Updated: Aug 12, 2023, 3:51 pm

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah — He lost his home in the wind-fueled wildfires on Maui and escaped with only two backpacks of his property, and on Friday, he was back in Utah contemplating his next steps.

Ryan Brazell described the often confusing and harrowing ordeal that began Tuesday as the fire began to close in on the town of Lahaina.

“It’s surreal,” Brazell said. “It just ripped through everything.”

He said high winds knocked out power and phone lines which impaired communication while the fire progressed.

By Tuesday night, he had gathered two backpacks of his property and left his place and was a mile away from the fire when the scope of the blaze hit him.

“It was just one of those moments where we were like, ‘okay, this is actually really bad,’” Brazell said. “It was going all the way up the side of the mountain and all the way through where the city was.”

The death toll in Maui rose to 67 on Friday as officials confirmed another 12 fatalities from a massive blaze that turned large swaths of a centuries-old town into a hellscape of ashen rubble.

Maui County officials said in an online statement that firefighters continued to battle the blaze, which was not yet fully contained. Meanwhile, residents of Lahaina were being allowed to return home for the first time to assess the damage.

Brazell had just moved to the island in February for a scuba diving instructor job and the beauty he chose to surround himself with suddenly seemed like a distant dream.

On Wednesday morning, Brazell learned his home was lost in the fire and others shared videos with him of the destruction in Lahaina which he said included “the wreckage and bodies laying out in the street.”

Some relief, he said, came with a call from his dad.

“He had bought a plane ticket for me and was like, ‘Hey, if you can get to the airport by 5:30, you have a plane ticket out and we’ll let you stay in our place in Utah,’” Brazell said.

Brazell said he was able to hitch a ride to the airport and return to Utah.

He recognized many on Maui weren’t that fortunate.

“Yeah, it’s hard to deal with, so still trying to work through that emotionally a little bit,” Brazell said.

Brazell urged others to donate and contribute however possible, noting many were going to be in desperate need of assistance.

“We lost a lot of lives and a lot of different stuff,” Brazell said. “Nobody expected that this was going to be the disaster that it was.”

Meetinghouses for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are being used as evacuation shelters for victims displaced by the devastating wildfires in Maui.

Church of Jesus Christ meetinghouses serving as shelters for Maui fire victims

The Church News announced Thursday that church stake centers are being used as shelters for the many families in the community who have had to evacuate. The Kahului Hawaii West Stake Center, alone, is housing hundreds of people.

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Utahn returns after losing his home in Maui fire, contemplates next steps