ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — A group of Rockford scuba enthusiasts were in Hawaii for a celebratory trip that turned into a nightmare they will never forget.
Thirteen staff members of Rockford’s Azimuth Scuba, at 4315 E State Street, thought Hawaii would be the perfect spot to celebrate the receipt of their scuba instructor licenses in Lahania, and then wildfires broke out on the island.
Owner Brian Kinely recalled that he realized “that we were in trouble. Nobody knew what to do. The island’s just roughly slightly larger than the size of Winnebago County. It’s not that big of an island. It only holds 167,000 people. So there’s not a lot of infrastructure. It’s a volcanic island with scrub brush.”
Will cell phone service out, dive master Mike Fay says the team knew they needed to get off the island.
“We just knew that we needed to move and we grabbed up what we could, and the rest of it can be replaced. So, we just got in the vehicles and took off,” he said.
Kinely says he is saddened looking at images of what the island was before the wildfires, and what’s left.
“Maui and Lahaina, in general, is … was such a quaint, good town with good people in there,” he said. “I don’t think anybody understands the devastation, exactly. There’s nothing left of that town. It’s gone.”
Fay added, “We’ve had tornadoes here where it wipes out a lot of areas and stuff, and it only takes the blink of an eye for some disaster to happen.”
Both Kinely and Fay say they are still processing the experience, and say their friends who lived in Lahaina are still trying to figure out what’s next.
“We lost more than thousands of dollars worth of stuff, which is minor compared to [what they’ve lost]. So, we have to try to actually push to help those in Lahaina more than anything else, because they … lost, not just their possessions [and] their livelihood, but in many cases, unfortunately, their lives,” Kinely said. “But for those who are still remaining, they lost even to have a way to recoup, like we do.”
Kinely and Fay recommend donations be made to a GoFundMe that has been set up to benefit the fire survivors.