Home Lifestyle Maui entrepreneur who lost everything in wildfires: ‘We got blindsided’

Maui entrepreneur who lost everything in wildfires: ‘We got blindsided’

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Maui entrepreneur who lost everything in wildfires: ‘We got blindsided’

Cole Millington spent years building his business – Honolua Hot Sauce Company – in Maui, Hawaii. The 26-year-old Nantucket, Massachusetts, native told FOX Business that he was in the midst of scaling up his operation when everything changed.  

Last Tuesday, when devastating wildfires overtook parts of the island, Millington lost everything. His home in Lahaina, the stores that sold his hot sauce and the commercial kitchen he used to make it were all decimated by the fire. 

At least 100 people were killed in the fires that have yet to be contained. Meanwhile, many others, including some of Millington’s friends and family, are still unaccounted for. 

“I got out with just my dog and my passport and my laptop,” Millington said. “Everything is unfortunately gone.” 

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Cole Millington in the commercial kitchen where he made his hot sauce. His business was the Honolua Hot Sauce Company. (Cole Millington )

The University of Denver grad moved to Lahaina four years ago to become a scuba diving guide. The island became his home, and when the pandemic hit and he lost his job because tourism came to a standstill, he stayed. 

Millington, who considers himself a hot sauce fanatic, started experimenting in the kitchen and created a recipe that became a hit among friends and neighbors. He made a logo, ordered supplies and began selling his sauces to local farmers markets and eventually at more than a dozen stores in the area. 

However, last week, the life he knew vanished within minutes.

Cole Millington

Cole Millington posing next to his inventory at his home in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Cole Millington )

Millington recalled the winds being so strong that work had been canceled for the day, he said. He was relaxing in his bedroom when all of a sudden he saw a “very deep black plume of smoke that was pretty sizable” through his window. 

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Millington said he turned to his roommates and suggested they start grabbing a couple of things just in case. 

“Within about 10 or 15 minutes, we are sprinting down… getting into our cars… peeling out of the driveway as fast as we could,” Millington said. “The whole street was covered in black smoke. There was downed power lines, downed trees in the streets… people screaming in the street.” 

Black smoke in Lahaina

A view from Cole Millington’s home in Lahaina, Hawaii. Black smoke is billowing as the fires spread last week. (Parker Bilecky/Cole Millington)

Millington said he did not get an evacuation notice until he was already in his vehicle. He was also the only one in his complex to get it. 

“We got blindsided. I was taking a nap earlier that day and had I been asleep and no one home, I’d be dead. Had I been out of my house, my dog would be dead,” he said. 

As they were escaping, Millington said they had no idea the “extent of what was to come in the next couple of hours.” 

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There were hundreds of cars waiting in standstill traffic on the only road out of Lahaina, he said. It took them three hours to get to Kihei, which is normally a 25-minute drive, according to Millington. 

“There was no direction of where to go. There was not a single police officer. The whole time I’m evacuating, I saw maybe one flying back,” he recalled.

Smoke in Lahaina

Traffic at a standstill as people try to leave Lahaina, Hawaii, last week amid deadly wildfires. (Cole Millington)

Shortly after getting to a friend’s home, Millington and his friends got alerts on their phones that Kihei was also on fire, and they needed to evacuate immediately. 

They eventually escaped to a family farm in Waihe’e, where Millington and his roommates are sleeping in a small one-bedroom apartment with 15 others who lost everything. 

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The area he fell in love with four years ago looked like “a war zone,” he said.

Right now, Millington said his business is no longer his priority. His sole focus is on finding supplies for struggling community members and searching for his loved ones in West Maui. 

“The major crisis right now is the communication. The local government has completely failed us,” Millington said. “I was over in… [the] disaster zone yesterday [Monday] and I saw one police officer in the four hours I was over there.”

Lahaina

Traffic at a standstill as people try to leave Lahaina, Hawaii, last week amid deadly wildfires. (Cole Millington)

Millington stressed that they are not getting the help and supplies they need. The community, as Millington describes it, is fending for itself. 

“It’s the locals coming together,” he said. “I got friends driving through the old, smoldering town with their old pickup trucks delivering supplies. I got friends with boat companies who are boating supplies in.”

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Millington said he has friends who are providing refuge for dozens of people in a single home. They are “using their personal credit card to buy 50 people supplies, and they’re running out of money,” he added.

Millington even created his own fundraiser to help get residents the supplies they need. 

He is simultaneously pleading for support from the National Guard and local police officers to help, saying many people “are afraid for their lives because of potential looting and violence.” People are struggling to fall asleep at night in fear that their supplies will be looted, Millington said.

“It’s really scary,” he said.

Now, his fear is what will become of the historic town of Lahaina. Millington said the locals are worried that when it’s rebuilt, it will become a tourist destination.

“It needs to be rebuilt historically. It needs to be rebuilt the right way, and it cannot turn into a tourist destination,” he added.

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