Like many people, the news of the Maui wildfires hit me and my family hard. We’ve vacationed there many, many times including this past January and we have a close connection and huge love for the island and its people. RELATED: Maui Wildfires: Advice for Travelers and How to Help
In the beginning, the government had been sending mixed messages about whether tourists should continue to vacation on the island. It’s 727 square miles so it’s not small.
One of my friends, Michael Binder, who splits his time between L.A. and Maui and owns Kapalua Zipline, was kind enough to sit down for a 16-minute interview with me to shares his experience during the devastating fire, how people can help and if tourists should still travel to Maui. The interview is embedded below, along with highlights from the transcript.
Johnny Jet: Anytime you need advice on Maui, I turn to Binder. Where were you during the fire?
Michael Binder: I was at the Hyatt with my wife Simone and six of our other friends when it all happened. We had to evacuate on the Thursday. We went to some local friends and then we stayed till Friday.
Johnny Jet: Did you see the devastation?
Michael Binder: We were right next to it. We saw it when we drove around because we had to get from our work down into Lahaina to try and get some supplies to some people. And so we saw firsthand. It was just devastating.
Johnny Jet: Do you have friends missing?
Michael Binder: Our most important thing was to check on our staff first because we have 50 employees working for us and a lot of them were summer help. So we sent them all home. Four of our employees lost their homes and those four were on Lahaina.
Johnny Jet: So how can we help them?
Michael Binder: MauiNow.com has probably the most important website. That’s where you can find the major places to donate, what they’re looking for.
Johnny Jet: Speaking visitors and stuff … we’re getting conflicting messages from the government. First, they were saying no visitors to Maui. Now they’re saying no visitors to West Maui. You own one of the biggest tourist attractions on Maui. Should people visit?
Michael Binder: Yes, there has been mixed messages and the reality is you can’t let tourism die off because you’re going to send the economy into a depression. So people can go to the south, McKenna, Wailea and up to Hana. As of right now, West Maui is closed, but the island of Maui is not closed.
People need to make money. Employees need to go back to work. Anybody who owns a small little restaurant to somebody like me, who owns a zip line. You can’t come to see us because the hotels close to our site are closed and we’re fine with that. We’re gonna do our best to get through and we will survive. It’s almost like COVID all over again. But the important thing is for the people who have, like, a shrimp truck on the south side who’s waiting for tourists. The big resorts, they’ll survive as well, but it’s all the people, the guy who works in valet. It’s the woman who works as the manager of the front desk. She’s relying on people to come so she can get a salary and these are important things.
So the message has to get out that Maui is not closed. Just West Maui until the recovery effort is done. The most important part is recovering the bodies of the local people and that’s what makes Maui … the local people. The local town of Lahaina and we don’t want to get in their way. And that’s why I left the island because I left it for people that needed to be there and do the work as well as as well as our friends. They all came together. This isn’t our time. This is for the people of Maui.
Shortly after our interviewed finished, Hawaii Tourism sent out an update to their press release with the title, “Governor Green Reaffirms Travel Outside West Maui, Other Hawaiian Islands Is Safe,” which echoed Binder’s thoughts. It said:
“In addressing a community concern about ensuring the economic well-being of Maui and the state, Governor Josh Green emphasized the importance of travel during today’s news conference. “Like we saw in the pandemic, decisions we made can affect everyone across the islands. So what we’re saying now is travel should not be to West Maui. But the other parts of Maui are safe,” said Governor Green. “And the rest of the state, of course, is also safe.”
“In alignment with Governor Green, the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority urges visitors to refrain from going to West Maui (including Lāhainā, Nāpili, Kāʻanapali, and Kapalua) as a means of respect to the people and places that have been lost in Lāhainā during this devastating tragedy.
“The August 13 emergency proclamation remains in place, with all nonessential travel to West Maui being strongly discouraged through the month of August.
“The impacted area of Lāhainā remains off limits to the public as the search and recovery efforts continue.
“We encourage travelers to consider visiting other areas of Maui (including Kahului, Wailuku, Kīhei, Wailea, Mākena, Pāʻia and Hāna), or other islands such as Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Lānaʻi, Molokaʻi and Hawaiʻi Island.
“For the latest Maui emergency management and recovery information, and how you can kōkua (help) the people of Maui, visit mauistrong.hawaii.gov.”
How to Help
If you have the means to support the good people of Maui, here are some verified organizations:
–Maui Strong – Hawaii Community Foundation
–Maui Fire and Disaster Relief Donations Page
–Maui Food Bank
–American Red Cross