‘The pride runs deep’
First responders rally to save historic Lahainaluna campus
LAHAINA — The West Maui fire that began early Friday morning blackened the hills around Lahainaluna High School’s English and math building. It burned right to the edge of the football stadium and scorched a portion of the track.
But for the teachers and alumni who came to clean up the campus Monday morning, the school’s close call was nothing short of a miracle.
“I was truly thankful to God for sparing our campus, and to the firemen who risked their lives to save our campus,” Principal Lynn Kahoohalahala said. “Not one building on campus was touched by the fire. It’s truly amazing how there was a seal of protection over our school.”
Aside from damaging a section of track and burning a baseball practice field, the fire that consumed 2,000 acres from Lahainaluna to Launiupoko largely left the school intact. While other public schools resumed classes Monday, the state Department of Education gave Lahainaluna, Lahaina Intermediate, Princess Nahienaena Elementary and King Kamehameha III Elementary an extra day off to deal with the aftermath of the hurricane and the fire.
About 200 volunteers showed up Monday morning to help clean campus buildings. Firefighters helped remove burned trees. Complex Area Superintendent Lindsay Ball confirmed that the school was on track to resume classes today.
Building J, which houses English and math classrooms, had one of the biggest scares. The hills around the building were black and burned; in some places the flames came within 10 feet of the building.
“I came up here the day after the fire, and I was just shocked how close it came to the building,” English teacher Ryan Granillo said as he swept his classroom. “There were still smoldering spots everywhere. It’s kind of a miracle.”
Granillo said last week was supposed to be students’ first full week of school. Instead, the school had to close for three days in preparation for Hurricane Lane.
English teacher Sara Murphy and curriculum coordinator Denise Tabbada were washing down window screens outside Murphy’s classroom.
“There was rumors at first — ‘Oh, Lahainaluna’s on fire,’ “ Tabbada said. “I was a boarder, so my heart was like, that’s my home. . . . And that’s the reason why I came back to work here is because of that. So it was kind of heartbreaking to think that this was, it would be gone.”
Murphy said as school starts back up again, “probably the best thing for kids is just routine.”
“It’s acknowledgment of feelings and knowing that hey, everybody has an experience and a story to tell,” she said. “Now we pick up our pieces and we have to move on.”
Kahoohalahala said boarding students were sent home to their sponsors Tuesday afternoon. They were expected to return Monday. Kahoohalahala added that a teacher and some students lost homes in the fire. She said the teacher has some administrative leave time and that the school will provide uniforms and school supplies for the affected students.
Vice Principal Ilima Greig-Hong said that the school would also offer counseling.
“We want the kids to return to very normal conditions as best as we can,” she said. “And we want to help with counseling or anybody who’s in some sort of trauma when they return to school.”
She added that they were waiting to hear from the DOE superintendent as to whether they would have to make up the lost days.
On Monday, the cleanup also drew alumni like 2013 graduate Ayin Tinajero and 2014 graduate Lithe Pokipala-Waiohu. Tinajero said when she first heard about the fire, “I was actually pretty in tears to see what’s going on to our school and Lahaina town in general.”
“Just seeing pictures on the internet already was very emotional,” Pokipala-Waiohu said. “Actually being here was tougher than I thought. This school is so amazing, and we almost lost it.”
Lahainaluna plans to honor first responders during halftime of its Sept. 8 football game at Sue D. Cooley Stadium, student activities coordinator Pakalana Phillips said. She added that the school will also offer free tickets to its Sept. 15 festival to first responders and their families.
“I don’t even think that’s even enough,” Phillips said. “We want to give back. We want to thank them physically, and I think that’s just a way for us as a community to start healing too. To meet them and greet them and to see them and just really give our mahalos to them.”
After the fire, Vice Principal Jeri Dean received a text from a firefighter whose morning crew was in charge of protecting Lahainaluna.
“We were going to die before we let it burn,” the text read. “Came pretty close but we pushed the fire around. The pride runs deep.”
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at email@example.com.