Home U.S. News How an L.A.-Based New York Times Reporter Covered the Maui Fires

How an L.A.-Based New York Times Reporter Covered the Maui Fires

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How an L.A.-Based New York Times Reporter Covered the Maui Fires

Hawaii has been a special place for generations of Californians, and I am no exception.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit the islands a handful of times, and I married on Maui in 2021. As a mixed-race person with Japanese heritage who grew up eating mochiko chicken and Spam musubi, I have long felt in Hawaii a kind of cultural home.

So last Wednesday, it didn’t take long for me to start seeing horrifying videos on social media of flames ripping through Lahaina, the seaside town on Maui that was once the royal capital of Hawaii. By the end of the day, I was on a plane headed to the island to report on the devastation for The New York Times.

As of Tuesday night, at least 106 people were confirmed dead, making the wildfire the deadliest in the U.S. in more than a century.

On Maui, I talked with residents about what they had experienced and about how tourism had shaped the island into a place of vast inequality, something like a compressed version of California. I also talked with them about the future: Could the recovery help build a more sustainable balance between managing tourism and protecting local communities?

These are complicated, difficult and, for those of us who have visited Hawaii, uncomfortable questions. But as we continue to follow the aftermath of the fires, they are necessary ones.

Last week, in a phone conversation from a motel near Kahului Airport on Maui, I spoke to my colleague Sarah Bahr about what I was seeing and learning. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation, which also formed part of a Times Insider article that Sarah wrote recently.

You’ve covered many wildfires in California, including the Camp fire in 2018. How has that experience been helpful?

I’m able to compare what I’m seeing on Maui with some of the big wildfires in California. In more than a decade of covering them, I have an understanding of why wildfires have become so much more dangerous and damaging.

How did you plan your coverage?

When I’m traveling for breaking news, the directive from my editors is essentially, if you see something, throw it in the Slack channel and we’ll figure out what to do with it. That’s one thing that’s nice about The Times’s live blog — it’s very up-to-the-minute reporting. We’re encouraged to share any on-the-ground observation.

Officials have strongly discouraged visitors from traveling to the island, whose economy relies on tourism, while the crisis continues. How are local businesses navigating that?

On the one hand, nobody wants to take resources, and a lot of local people were frustrated that some vacationers were acting like everything was normal. But there are also working people who don’t want to lose income and don’t have a choice but to keep working. We saw this dynamic play out during the pandemic with essential workers. When you have a service economy, it’s a tough needle to thread.

Are local people generally planning to return and rebuild, or are they looking to move elsewhere?

Many people I’ve talked to have said they don’t know where else they would go. It’s going to severely exacerbate what was already a housing market in crisis. There are some people who came to Hawaii to work in the service industry — snorkeling, boat tours, bartending — and if they have connections to the mainland, they may go back, which will probably create a challenge in the work force as Maui rebuilds.

What has been the most challenging part of your reporting?

For understandable reasons, there’s a frustration with or suspicion of people parachuting in and foregrounding the experiences of visitors. I’ve tried to be mindful of that by telling people that the only way for people outside Hawaii to understand what is happening and how their lives have been upended by this is for us to talk to them and tell their stories as truthfully and deeply as we can. The last thing we want to do is to fail to reflect the experience of people who are living through this.

I’ve also heard from lots of residents who are helping with the huge mutual-aid efforts around the island that they do want that story to be told, and they want people to know that they need, and will continue to need, lots of help.

Why is having reporters on the ground so important?

There’s an understanding that you develop in casual conversations with people, even those you won’t end up quoting. At the shelter on Thursday, I was hanging around, talking to a woman who had lost everything when her neighborhood burned down, and somebody came up and offered her a cold, fresh coconut with a straw in it. I thought, That’s an “only in Hawaii” moment.

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Today’s tip comes from Ben Collins, who recommends Fallbrook, a community in northern San Diego County that he describes this way: “Inland a bit from the coast, hilly, cooler, less crowded, small town, unofficial world capital of avocados, Pedro’s fish tacos, gorgeous cycling and motorcycling country heading east into the hills. Still agricultural. A quiet spot north of San Diego and south of L.A. metro, not far from the beach at Oceanside.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.


A number of Los Angeles landmarks are turning 100 this year, including the Hollywood sign, the Memorial Coliseum and the Biltmore Hotel downtown.

Do you have favorite memories of these L.A. institutions? Share them in a few sentences with CAtoday@nytimes.com, and please include your name and the city where you live.


Mahsa Fouchey’s Yorkshire terrier, Meshki, has been a part of her life since she was 21. Fouchey, now 32, lives in Los Angeles and married in June.

At Calamigos Ranch in Malibu, Fouchey got ready for the big day with her mother, her sister and her Yorkie. While the women enjoyed mimosas and muffins, Meshki munched on freshly made treats. He wore his own tuxedo.


Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Soumya Karlamangla and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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