Featured Image: Anna Popović

Ashley Lewis, Itzel Luna and Kathleen Wong, USA TODAY

MAUI, Hawaii − Jordan Saribay can’t shake the image of his beloved hometown, Lahaina, Hawaii, engulfed in flames. But he’s fortunate he and his family escaped the inferno alive, having merely lost items that can be replaced − including his home.

As Saribay fled wildfires raging across the island of Maui late Tuesday, he saw his own home and the home of his grandmother engulfed. Walls of flame “as tall as the buildings” and debris turned into dangerous projectiles surrounded him at every turn.

“Everything is gone, every single one of our family homes,” Saribay said. “The entire Lahaina Town and the entire subdivision of Lahaina – gone.”

Wind-whipped wildfires scorched the main heart of Maui, reducing homes and businesses in historic Lahaina Town to ashes and forcing people to jump into the ocean to escape the flames and smoke. At least 36 people have died.

The flames grew much faster than anyone could have imagined.

Jordan Saribay and his mom, Melissa Bailey.

Photo provided by Jordan Saribay
Jordan Saribay and his mom, Melissa Bailey. Photo provided by Jordan Saribay

Getting out of the danger zone made for a surreal journey as he tried to find an unclogged escape route amid blistering heat.

“While driving through the neighborhood, it looked like a war zone,” Saribay said. “Houses throughout that neighborhood were already on fire. I’m driving through the thickest black smoke, and I don’t know what’s on the other side or what’s in front of me.”

When he made it out, Saribay felt a pang of emotion seeing Lahaina in his rearview mirror, wondering what would be left to go back to. “Just praying that a miracle happens,’ he said.

‘This fire — it just hit so fast’

Heidi Denecke, owner of the Maui Animal Farm, spent Tuesday night awake in her truck at her farm in Lahaina watching the fires with friends before being evacuated early Wednesday.

HOW DID THE MAUI FIRES START? What we know about humans making disasters worse

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