'Everybody's panicking': Chicago-connected survivors of Maui fires describe fleeing from flames

IL Red Cross volunteer leaving for Hawaii to respond to disaster

ByMark Rivera and Christian Piekos WLS logo
Friday, August 11, 2023
Chicago-connected survivors of Maui fires describe fleeing from flames
Survivors of the Hawaii fires described fleeing from the deadly flames. Meanwhile, an Illinois Red Cross volunteer is heading there to help.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Susan Burch says she could have died after her home in the historic Lahaina Community was decimated by flames.

"We had five minutes to each run in to our houses. I grabbed my cat and my purse, got in our car. We had to drive through sparks and smoke, and just drove as far south as we could with thousands of other cars and people walking on the highways," Burch said.

Burch, originally from Mundeline, has lived in Lahaina for 19 years. She's now staying with friends after several nights in her car, and is hoping to come back to her childhood suburban home.

"We saw smoke, but within five minutes of watching the flames were directly across the street, 40 to 50 feet high, coming fast with 70 mph winds just pushing them faster than you could possibly imagine," Burch said.

How to help Maui fire victims from afar: Organizations and efforts underway

The latest reports say hundreds of structures have been leveled as the number dead continues to rise over 50.

Katyana and Dylan Green, with their two kids, barely escaped the blaze.

"We had maybe three minutes, if that," Dylan said. "The house was already covered in smoke. The area was maybe 120, 130 degrees at this point. The winds are blowing 50-plus mph. Everybody's panicking. They're screaming."

They, too, have family in Chicago trying to help.

"The kids were safe from all the smoke, and maybe about two minutes after that, we had to drive out, cause everything was starting to engulf," Dylan said.

As some evacuees return to O'Hare, others from the Chicago area are flying out of Midway Airport to help.

Paul Bamman, of south suburban Frankfurt, is the first Red Cross of Chicago volunteer to head to the Hawaiian Island. He said he's ready to make a difference on Maui.

Help is on the way to Hawaii from our area.

"We are there to support them on the worst day of their lives," Bamman said.

With his suitcase in tow, Bamman got ready to begin his long journey to fire-stricken Maui from Midway Airport. The veteran Red Cross volunteer is anxious to get to work.

"I give 100%, but I actually come home with a great feeling of satisfaction," Bamman said.

SEE MORE: Maui fire: Lahaina looks like 'bomb' went off, returning travelers from Illinois say

Though this is his first trip to Hawaii, Bamman has responded to natural disasters across the country for the Red Cross since 2018, including hurricanes in south Louisiana, tornadoes in Illinois and Kentucky and wildfires in California.

"Until you're boots on the ground standing on the ground in a disaster area where you turn 360 and all you see is total devastation, it impacts you," Bamman said.

Bamman said he's prepared to be on Maui for at least three weeks, but will be staying longer if necessary.

He will be helping out with shelter logistics, making sure those hit hardest by this wildfire get the tender loving care they deserve.

"Some people really need a hug," Bamman said. "And maybe it's a five minute hug. Other people just need to spend 30 minutes sitting down with somebody."

Maui residents had little warning before flames overtook town; at least 55 people died

Bamman said he's looking forward to reconnecting with Red Cross volunteers from across the country on Maui.

His heart for others makes you want to drop what you're doing to help out. Resolve, resiliency and perseverance are propelling people forward.

"We'll survive. We'll get through this, and we'll start over," Burch said.

Sue Burch's GoFundMe can be found here.

The Green family's GoFundMe can be found here.