Minnesotan now living in Maui loses dream home

Minnesotan now living in Maui loses dream home

Originally from Hill City, MN, Aleta McGrath relocated to Maui in 2008. She and her family were among many who lost their home in the fire.

Aleta McGrath is from Hill city, Minnesota and moved to Maui in 2008. 

“When I was 19, after my first year of college at Saint Mary’s in Winona, I decided to take a job in Sitka, Alaska, for the summers. When I graduated with my degree, I knew I wanted to continue working in Alaska in the summers. However, I didn’t know what to do with my winters, so that’s just to get me to Maui,” McGrath explained. “There was a great opportunity to work on the whale watching boats, the humpback whales travel there in the wintertime. So that’s how I got started. And I met my husband on the boats there, and we’ve been full time now since 2014.”

Although they still visit Aleta’s parents in Hill City, the couple decided to settle in Maui.

“It is pretty difficult in Hawaii in general to find family homes. Everything is a little bit more expensive, especially compared to northern Minnesota,” said McGrath. “When we got married in 2015, we just kind of had this plan. We’re going to make it here. We don’t ever want to leave. We want this to be our permanent home because of how much we loved it.” 

In 2020, the McGraths bought their dream home. 

The McGraths pose in front of their new home in 2020 (Aleta McGrath).

On August 8th, everything changed for the family. 

“We woke up to a phone call from a neighbor who had said she was meant to fly off island, and she said, ‘I’m not going. It’s really windy. the power is out’. And we just had solar put on to our home, so we didn’t know.” 

Stores were closed and ferry trips were canceled as locals waited for the power to come back on. 

“Everybody was just kind of hanging out with the power out. We could hear sirens going all day, power poles going down, trees falling down, and there had been a fire that started up above Lahaina at around 9 a.m. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon, especially this time of year, for a fire to happen.”

This fire, however, was different. 

“Around 3: 30 in the afternoon, we saw a really, really dark cloud of smoke, and it looked to us, unlike a brush fire, it seemed that maybe there were buildings burning,” said McGrath. “We monitored, being on the ocean side of the highway. It’s not happened in the past that the fire has jumped over the road, but the winds had to have sustained 60 miles an hour due to the hurricane to the south of us. I’ve worked on boats on the ocean. I’ve never seen wind like that sustained. It was unprecedented.”

As the fire got closer, evacuation was needed. 

“The cloud of smoke grew and grew to the point where my husband said, ‘I think we should probably pack a bag.’ and he’s pretty calm. So for him to say that was okay and by the time it was probably 4: 15, that’s 45 minutes after we noticed the smoke, we grabbed important documents, a change of clothes for the kids,” McGrath detailed. “We have, you know, like a ditch bag with a little bit of food and water. We weren’t sure what to expect, so we threw that in the car and there were ashes flying by the house. It was almost like the sun had been blocked out.”

Dealing with traffic and closed roads, the family eventually made it to a friend’s house as flames engulfed their home. Aleta and her husband were able to briefly see what was left of their dream house. 

(Aleta McGrath)

“We waited a couple of days. They weren’t letting anybody in and out. I think it was friday we were able to get back in. We spoke to authorities to make sure that we were, you know, being respectful and not breaking any rules. He just said, you know, you’re not allowed to drive in. So we parked. We walked in,” said McGrath.  “That’s when we were able to lay our eyes on what was our home. And we got photos and tried to sift through, but it was still pretty hot and pretty unsafe to probably be there breathing. So we didn’t stay very long and we haven’t seen it since. It was devastating. Just really not many words that you can describe other than just, you know, heartbreaking and devastating.”

McGrath said she is thankful to be alive and blown away by the support they have received. 

“We look forward to the future rebuilding with our community. We intend to stay here, and we want to help in any way we can. I mean, there’s people that are in the same situation as us. There’s people that have lost loved ones. So just moving forward with sympathy and empathy, but then also positivity,” said McGrath.