Utah Tech students deal with side effects as a result of raging wildfires in Maui

Nani Szczesny, a freshman criminal justice major from Las Vegas, holds a picture of the wildfires in Maui where many lives have been impacted. As part of the Pasefika Student Union, Szczesny reflects on how she can help those affected by the fires. Mia Tom | Sun News Daily

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While wildfires in Maui continue to wreak havoc on Hawaiian citizens, there are many Utah Tech University students who are feeling the impacts as a result.

Wildfires near the town of Lāhainā on Maui Island, Hawaii started Aug. 8 after a brush fire ignited into flames. 

There have been an estimated 115 people who have been killed by the fires since they started and an estimated 388 who are still missing. The main fires on Maui, the Olinda fire and the Kula fire, are about 85% contained but have burned about 2,170 acres collectively across the island of Maui over the past month.

While citizens of Hawaii are directly impacted by the raging fires, students at Utah Tech indirectly experience the effects that are brought on by these wildfires.

Tyna Kahiamoe, a junior criminal justice major from Maui, said the wildfires impact her more than just mentally and that she is unable to focus on schoolwork when there are many other things to be worried about.

“It’s hard thinking when my island home is burning, and I can’t do anything about it,” Kahiamoe said.

It was a family tradition for Kahiamoe’s family to go to Lāhainā, and she said a part of her feels like it is now missing.

Lāhainā is a place of transformation and tradition for the people of Hawaii as it has served as a place of the Hawaiian government, royalty and historical events for centuries.

Kahiamoe is experiencing direct effects as a student who is from Maui. While there are about 150 Pacific Islander students at Utah Tech, not all of them are from Maui. Students from other Pacific islands see this as an opportunity to support their friends and family during this time.

Former student Polutele Fale and current student Adonis Mioi, a junior general studies major, are both from the island of Oahu, and while they don’t see direct repercussions from these fires, they still feel for the people of Maui.

Fale said: “These events have pushed me to try even harder. It makes me wish that I were in a position where I might be able to help.”

Many people have started donating to GoFundMe pages and helping out organizations like Maui Nui Strong, a development program run by the county of Maui asking for volunteers and donations.

These recent events have side effects, and Mioi said these events have changed his perspective on life in general.

“After finding out Lāhainā had burned down and that all that history and tradition has been lost, it does make me want to get out and experience new things because you’ll never know if one day your opportunity to do so will disappear or not,” Mioi said.

Both Fale and Mioi said there is a great sense of loss and sadness for all the people of Maui, and Kahiamoe is devastated that a huge part of her family tradition has been taken away from her.

“There are definitely other students from Maui who have experienced great losses due to this tragedy,” Fale said. “Some other students may have family members who are still missing.”

For those who want to offer help, there are plenty of places to donate to and several resources to learn about wildfire prevention.

Mioi said, “For those people, all we can do is try to support them to the best of our abilities.”