Although Scott and Stacy Rusher could see that the winds were blustery, Lāhainā news told Maui residents that they had nothing to worry about. But when Scott, Stacy and their youngest son, Kalani, along with his girlfriend, Katherine, saw a fire in the distance from their home, they made their own decision to evacuate. Though Hawaiian Electric shut down power in the area, a spark started a raging wildfire that moved fast and turned indiscriminately with the wind.
As they left their home, they saw 50 or more neighbors walking with suitcases and other possessions on the road out. But it wasn’t until they became stuck in a long line of cars that they began to realize the seriousness of the situation. The Rushers attempted to return to their house, but a security guard for their HOA community advised them against it.
“I always thought we were safe from fire because we had a fire hydrant so close to our property, but the water was turned off,” explains Scott. A firefighter staying next door to their friend’s house stated he wasn’t leaving because “the way the winds were blowing, the fire would not come this way,” Scott remembers. “It was surreal, the way it played out due to the lack of information.”
The sky was blue while gale-force winds poured down the mountains and accelerated in gusts up to 67 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service. The winds sucked away the remaining moisture in an already parched vegetation, turning the landscape into tinder. Officials estimated that the fire moved a mile a minute and its path pivoted with the wind—leaving a scattered path of destruction.
“There is just one road north and one road south. We watched the power lines swinging and ended up spending the entire night on the road,” says Scott. “We met some cool people. I wish we had gotten their full names.” The Rushers’ home was destroyed by the fire, leaving only ashes and the skeletal remains of their bicycles.
Packing for a Lāhainā visit was never necessary; they had everything already there—pickleball equipment, paddleboards, surfboards, clothes, bicycles. “It was the place where, as soon as we got off the airplane, all of the stress and tension melted away and my blood pressure dropped,” says Scott. “We had it so dialed in. I would travel with only a backpack with my work stuff.”
Grateful that they had their home in Manhattan Beach to return to, the family launched a relief effort to help their neighbors who were not as fortunate. They coordinated a donation drive, with the help of The Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation, to collect clothes and necessities for displaced residents in Maui. So far they have shipped close to 100 boxes.
“So many people stepped up to help, and the people in Lāhainā will continue to need help for a long time,” says Stacy. “But much of it is beyond what most people can do. The best thing is to find a good charity and donate funds to help those struggling.”
In the Rushers’ neighborhood alone, 94 of 240 homes were destroyed by the fire. “It’s going to be a long process to rebuild,” says Scott. The couple had plans drawn up for a rebuild prior to the fire, but the toxic waste from the fire must be cleaned up first.
Currently there is a lack of housing for displaced residents and a limited amount of construction labor. Permits were already slow to be approved, and this tragedy takes the process to an entirely new level.
Lāhainā will always hold a special place in the Rusher family’s hearts. “I still haven’t come to grips with the fact that the entire town is gone,” Scott admits. Even if it takes several years to rebuild, they will rebuild.
Scott grew up going to Lāhainā with his parents in the mid-1970s. He proposed to Stacy on top of Mount Haleakalā. Of course they honeymooned there too, and their children’s names, Keala, Malia and Kalani, are further evidence of their love for Hawaii.
“We know there will be roadblocks and delays, but we are staying positive and moving forward,” says Stacy. “To us, there is no better place to visit and live.” She shares the Hawaiian phrase “Lāhainā nō ka ‘oi,” meaning “Lāhainā is the best.”