Pali in Hawaiian means “cliff”. Maui’s Pali is the road to Lahaina where you leave Ma’alaea and creep around reinforced cliffs and through the tunnel. Any visitor to West Maui knows the Maui Pali. Beautiful and breathtaking in good conditions, it can be very hazardous.
This Weekend’s Fire
On July 2, 2016, I’d just spent 2 hours doing volunteer outreach at the Maui Ocean Center. On the way over, I noticed that the winds were super strong and our windmills on the hills were all creating lots of energy! My shift ended shortly after 1:00pm and we secured our outreach material in the usual place. I was planning on meeting a friend and her son to enjoy an afternoon looking at fish. When I texted her, she said they were stuck in traffic due to a fire. I decided to grab something to eat at the Cafe and commented to the young woman working that the winds were horrible today. She said “What is horrible is that smoke coming right at us”. I turned to see and immediately started coughing. I quickly ate my lunch as my friend said they’d arrived. We decided to delay the tour to another day and get out of danger.
I went outside and took this video on the way back to my car. I was nearly taken off my feet by the wind and the noise was haunting. While I was curious, the survival instinct kicks in and said “Get out of there!”
The traffic was still flowing toward Lahaina and I was surprised they hadn’t close the highway. The flames in some places were very close to the highway. Just out of Ma’alaea, you hit the Pali where the road winds around the barren cliffs and the wind flashes down the gulches. There was little control of the situation because the winds were 25-50 mph! As I drove home, traffic was stopped near North Kihei Rd. I snapped this photo; it appeared that the fire started near the intersection of North Kihei Road but up the hill a little. I thought, that is the area where Spencer Homes just said they won’t build affordable housing and listed 258 acres for sale for $9,975,000. In our little town, that made front page news. I kept driving with flow of traffic until I got on North Kihei Road and could safely pull over.
And another video — This time I narrated. I was in awe and fear.
Monitoring The Status
I spent much of the rest of the day tracking MauiWatch to see updates. We were lucky to have power and not lose internet access like much of the West Side and parts of North Kihei did. They did close the road to Lahaina and later stopped all traffic on North Kihei Rd. They evacuated the Ma’alaea Harbor Shops and homes. They finally reopened the road at 7:40 only to close it again at 8:20 p.m. They had to close the backside road too because there was too much traffic.
On social media, I saw desperate tourists trying to get to the airport or not knowing what to do because they could not get to their hotels or even call them. They were mad and angry. It was further complicated that the fire took out internet, phone and power to many areas. Deserted tourists asked how can a place like Maui not have alternate roads; I don’t think they have a clue how remote and treacherous the West Maui Mountains are. Only a few people have successfully hiked across them. People who have lived here for awhile, generally take it in stride. Building a highway? That is not the Maui way. While this was one of the worst, fires in that region happen almost every year, closing the Pali for hours. And if it is not a fire, it is a fatality or a bad accident. Essentially the only route to the West Side of Maui becomes impassable. Locals that drive the Pali often know to keep water, snacks and sunscreen in their car. My estimate is that 4+ hours of shutdown happens 2-3 times per year.
If you prefer the West Side of Maui or the resorts of Lahaina, Ka’anapali, Napili and Kapalui, recognize that there may be times when access is limited due to the closure of the Pali. Practice Aloha or choose Kihei, Wailea or other areas of Maui. The same message applies for Hana. Don’t complain; we are remote and that is part of what makes Maui No Ka Oi.