(MAUI, Hawaii) — Lahaina Restoration Foundation’s executive director Theo Morrison talks about the cultural significance of the hist…
Destructive wildfires are consuming the Hawaiian island of Maui, with dozens of deaths reported and hundreds of structures impacted.
At least 36 people so far have died in connection with the blaze, local officials said Thursday. Many cultural landmarks cherished by the people of the island are also being threatened by the ongoing devastation.
“We’ve lost a lot of homes, and a lot of businesses, and cultural and historical resources that have burned to the ground,” said Pamela Tumpap, president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce, in an interview with ABC News Live. “We’re seeing fires unlike we’ve ever seen before.”
Residents and officials say they are devastated by the fire’s destruction that could permanently alter the town.
“These are historic buildings that—they can’t be rebuilt,” Maui helicopter pilot and business owner Chris Olsten told ABC News Live. “They were there from the beginning and now they’re gone. And there’s nothing that we can do to replace them. And it’s just level flat to the ground … history, forever gone.”
The historic town of Lahaina
The region particularly being ravaged by the wildfires is the historic town of Lahaina, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1962.
“The town was a favorite site of Hawaiian kings and queens, whaling ships, and missionaries,” reads the National Park Service’s site on the district. “The historic district covers both land and sea and encompasses the entire old town of Lahaina as well as the waters one mile out from the historic section of the town.”
It was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820 to 1845 before Honolulu became the capital and before the kingdom was overthrown and Hawaii was annexed by the United States, according to the Hawai’i Tourism Authority.
Throughout the city are 55 acres of old Lāhainā that have been set aside as historic districts, including several of the culturally and historically significant landmarks that may be impacted by the blazes.
A 150-year-old historic banyan tree
According to the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, a more than 60-feet-tall, 150-year old Indian banyan tree that covers one quarter of a mile and shades nearly two-thirds of an acre had become a beloved landmark in the city of Lahaina.
The banyan tree was located in the path of the blaze, and could be seen scorched in images.
The foundation states that it is the largest banyan tree in the entire United States, and the courthouse square was renamed “Banyan Tree Park” in its honor.
According to the foundation, the tree was planted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lahaina. At the time it was only eight feet tall, the foundation’s website states.
Old Lahaina Courthouse and Heritage Museum
The Lahaina Heritage Museum is located within the Old Lahaina Courthouse just in front of the historic banyan tree and has also been caught up in the blaze, according to the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. What appears to be structural damage can be seen in aerial photos.
The heritage museum and its artifacts offered a look at the history of the town from its indigenous roots before colonization to its evolution through missionary efforts, whaling, the growth of plantations and tourism.
“This picturesque village has played a significant role in the development of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Republic, Territory and State of Hawai’i,” the foundation states on its website.
The Baldwin Home, the oldest house still standing on Maui, was burned in the wildfire, a museum official told CNN.
According to the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, the Baldwin Home served as a missionary compound around 1834. However, when the original owner Reverend Ephraim Spaulding moved out, a medical missionary moved it.
That missionary, Reverend Dwight Baldwin, would go on to inoculate the people of Maui Nui “with a smallpox vaccine to prevent deaths from the smallpox epidemic of 1853,” according to the foundation.
A 122-year old working hotel called Pioneer Inn appears to have sustained damage from the wildfire, according to aerial photos of the region. The inn sits at the edge of the Lahaina Harbor in the historic district.
“The hotel served the plantation communities and occasionally hosted notable guests such as novelist Jack London and the founding father of the Republic of China Sun Yat-Sen,” according to the National Park Service. “Today, the hotel is known as the Pioneer Inn and is one of the oldest operating hotels in Hawaii.”
Waiola Church and Lahaina Hongwanji Mission
The hall of historic Waiola Church, the first Christian church on Maui, was seen in photos engulfed in the blaze.
Lahaina Hongwanji Mission, which is a historic Shin Buddhist temple with roots back to the arrival of a Shin Buddhist minister in 1904, was also seen in photos consumed by the wildfire.
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