On the night the wildfires struck Lahaina, Maui Preparatory Academy was unexpectedly turned into a makeshift shelter for nearly 700 people. Many of these individuals were covered in soot or shivering from being in the ocean to escape the flames. Two days later, the small private school became an improvised distribution center, providing food, clothing, and shelter. In addition to this, the school is now enrolling an additional 140 students who were displaced by the fires.
The saga began when a Maui police officer arrived at the home of Ryan Kirkham, the principal of Maui Preparatory Academy, and informed him that the school needed to be opened as an evacuation site for the Lahaina Civic Center. Kirkham and the officer quickly arrived at the campus with flashlights in hand and began opening up classrooms to accommodate the incoming evacuees.
The evacuees were in a state of shock and distress, many of them injured or covered in soot. Kirkham vividly remembers carrying one elderly woman, who had spent three hours in the water, off the bus in his arms. Meanwhile, the Head of School, Miguel Solis, also arrived at the school after witnessing the threatening glow of the fires and feeling an unsettling gut instinct. He was amazed by the number of cars flooding towards the school, indicating that the whole town was seeking refuge there.
With the help of faculty, parents, students, and community members, the school staff did their best to provide for the needs of the evacuees. Classrooms became temporary shelters, bathrooms were opened for use, and food and drinks were distributed to those who were hungry. More volunteers and supplies arrived throughout the next day, and the school’s septic system posed challenges due to the lack of electricity.
Despite the overwhelming circumstances, the staff and volunteers at Maui Preparatory Academy managed to provide a safe haven for those affected by the wildfires. Their extraordinary efforts turned the school into a place of refuge during a time of crisis.