A series of capstone Maui wildfire stories that ran in the final week of 2023 — one focused on Lahaina’s losses and another on its uncertain future — showcase fruits of the extraordinary effort, commitment and selfless teamwork exhibited by the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and Hawaii reporting team over months amid endless challenges to share Lahaina’s plight with the world.
A series of capstone
Maui wildfire stories — one focused on Lahaina’s losses and another on its
uncertain future — was the culmination of months of painstaking beat work that
kept AP ahead with stories informed by on-the-ground reporting long after other
national news media had gone home.
The first story was an exploration of the community’s trauma — and particularly the trauma to the vulnerable — told through the story of a 78-year-old woman who died from smoke inhalation weeks after fleeing the fire, and whose family fought to have her listed as the fire’s 100th victim.
Seattle-based Chief Correspondent Gene Johnson artfully wove together the woman’s never-before-told story, using interviews done by Anchorage reporter Mark Thiessen and Honolulu reporter Jennifer Kelleher and medical records obtained by Kelleher via public records requests. In a sign of the family’s trauma, only the woman’s widow was willing to talk initially — the woman’s daughter refused to be photographed and the son wouldn't talk at all.
Seattle-based photographer Lindsey Wasson, who went to Oahu and then to Maui to shoot both stories, spent hours with the widow and daughter in Honolulu, ultimately getting frames of both, and then spent most of her three days on Maui pressing hard to connect with the son. Wasson ultimately connected with him just hours before she was to fly home — pushing back her flight twice — and made haunting photographs of him holding his mother’s ashes alongside his father and daughter.
Honolulu reporter Audrey McAvoy meanwhile sensitively explored the uncertainty of Lahaina’s post-fire future through the eyes of the displaced, including a server who quit her job after endless questions from tourists about the fire. When Phoenix-based VJ Ty O’Neil volunteered to spend a few hours working while on vacation in Maui, McAvoy connected him with the server and also to a housing protest on a popular beach.
The resulting two-story series is the fruit of the behind-the-scenes work by all involved over months that laid the groundwork for the AP’s authoritative accounting of what Lahaina lost and what lies ahead. The team treated the story like a beat from Day One and never let up, aggressively developing sources, overcoming endless logistical hurdles and coordinating across time zones and formats with dedication, commitment and selfless teamwork.