MAUI WILDFIRES: Grandma, 72, Dies in Blaze Just Hours Before Flight Home
A California grandmother died in the Maui wildfires just hours before she was due to fly home, it has been revealed.
Theresa Cook, 72, of Pollock Pines, was staying at the Best Western Pioneer Inn in Lahaina when the fire broke out on August 8.
She was last seen near the hotel’s famous banyan tree at 5:30pm, around the time the blaze overwhelmed the historic downtown area.
Cook’s children, Melissa Kornweibel and Adam Cook, had held out hope for weeks that their mother might have miraculously survived the blaze, as they scrambled to find out any information about her whereabouts.
But they finally received the devastating news on Sunday that she had been found dead.
“It’s a lot to process,” Adam said. “It’s still hard to even admit.”
Cook’s death is the first of a tourist to have been identified in the wildfires, which have killed at least 115 people.
The fire started early in the morning of August 8 when a transformer blew and ignited dry grass on Maui County-owned land, about a mile from Lahaina’s historic waterfront.
By 9am, county officials reported that the morning fire was “100% contained” — even though hurricane-force gusts were still blowing in the area.
They then left the scene, with county officials later saying the first responders were needed in other locations. But within an hour, the brush fire reignited and roared down the hillside toward the ocean, destroying nearly everything in its path.
The death toll from the fire has reached 115 people, as the number of missing has increased to 1,100.
The fire has also caused widespread damage to infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and power lines.
President Biden and first lady Jill Biden visited the area on Tuesday to survey the damage and meet with survivors.
“This is a tragedy,” Biden said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
The wildfires are a reminder of the dangers of climate change, which is making extreme weather events more common and more severe.
“This is a climate disaster,” said Gov. David Ige of Hawaii. “We need to take action to address climate change.”
The wildfires have also raised questions about the preparedness of local officials to respond to natural disasters.
The heads of the Maui and Hawaii emergency management agencies were at an annual conference on Oahu on August 8, the day the fires started leveling Lahaina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confirmed to HawaiiNewsNow (HNN).
Key federal officials were also at FEMA’s annual disaster meeting when one of the worst disasters in recent US history started occurring on the other island, the outlet said.
The officials gathering in Waikiki only became part of a “coordinating call about 11 a.m.,” a state emergency management spokesperson told the local outlet of what would have been nearly five hours after the blazes started.
The Maui wildfires are a tragedy that have claimed the lives of dozens of people and caused widespread damage.