When Terry Shpak left for Maui, West Quesnel was under an evacuation alert.
She put together a box and arranged for a friend to come pick it up for her if the order to evacuate came while she was away. Shpak hardly expected to trade one evacuation alert for another, caught between a wildfire and an incoming hurricane on a tropical island.
She was in Hawaii for a business course in the small town of Hana on the island of Maui. Shpak runs the Essential Balance Esthetics spa in Quesnel, and was in Hana to attend a seven-day Usui Holy Fire II Reiki course.
Shpak found out about the incoming storm, Hurricane Lane, just days before the end of her course. She was supposed to stay in Hana for a few days following the end of her course, but with the approaching storm, she felt it would be safer to move across the island to a more populated area.
“When the course ended, I left that afternoon,” she says.
Hana is a small, remote town, and Shpak was concerned that she could end up completely cut off from the rest of the world with limited supplies if she stayed.
So she left for Lahaina with one of her course mates, who agreed that it would be safer to ride out the storm somewhere with more resources.
“It felt surreal,” says Shpak. “Like, is it really coming? Is it going to happen?”
Hurricane Lane was classified as a category 5 hurricane. For context, a major hurricane is classified as a category 3 or above — and category 5 is as high as it goes.
The storm began slowing down, dropping to a category 2 hurricane, and then to a tropical storm as it neared Maui.
Shpak says the mayor of Maui County, which includes both the towns of Hana and Lahaina, told people on the island to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. He said that if things went wrong, it could take up to two weeks for them to get help.
Most stores and restaurants were boarded up and closed in preparation for the storm. At Shpak’s own hotel, patio furniture was brought inside, with a few exceptions that were tied down in an effort to guard against the wind.
“There was very little to do except wait for the hurricane to make its way past Maui,” says Shpak.
She and her course mate were staying at a hotel near the wharf, just meters from the ocean. Worried about floods, they decided to check out a shelter that had been set up for those who wanted to get to higher ground.
They went to the shelter, but neither of them felt quite safe there — not to mention they would have had to sleep on the floor. Those at the shelter were expected to bring blankets and pillows, something neither had with them as travellers. In the end, the pair opted to wait and see what happened at their hotel.
Preparing for the strong winds of the tropical storm to knock out their power, they filled every sink — and the bathtub — in their room with water. They also had a bucket, so that they could use the water to flush the toilet if they needed to.
The hotel lit hallways with glow sticks so guests could find their rooms.
They stocked up on supplies, buying things like non-perishable foods, rope, and flashlights. When they went to bed on Thursday night (Aug. 23), they were as prepared as they could be for the incoming storm, which was set to hit the next day.
But when Shpak awoke at 4 a.m. on Friday, it wasn’t to high flood waters or damaging winds. The smell of smoke hung in the air, strong enough to wake her up.
She went outside to see where it was coming from. From her balcony, she could see the flames of a massive brush fire on the hillside. More than 100 homes were evacuated and many more were burned that night. The strong winds from the incoming storm had fueled the fire, causing it to move very quickly.
So this is currently happening on our last day in Maui…and no I’m not talking about #HurricaneLane it’s a fire in Lahaina @Hawaii_EMA @CountyofMaui @mauipd best wishes first responders pic.twitter.com/JJjSyvSVfy
— Stephen Lai (@slaiguy) August 24, 2018
Shpak said she was told if the fire crossed the highway, they would be evacuated as well.
“‘I didn’t think it could get any worse, and here we are.’ That’s what I thought. Here I am: I’m looking at the fire, I’m looking at the ocean, and there’s no where to run. Where do you go?” she says.
The fire eventually changed direction and began moving away from Lahaina and toward another town. Shpak later found out that one of the places evacuated from the fire had been the shelter she and her course mate had considered moving to in order to avoid the storm.
They lost power from Friday morning until early morning on the Sunday, but their supplies carried them through. Shpak left to fly home at 10 p.m. on Sunday, and arrived back in Quesnel on Monday, Aug. 27 where the evacuation alert had already been lifted.