When Mark Stefl and his wife Michele learned their Hawaii home was swallowed by vicious flames, it brought back a horrific feeling they knew too well.
Five years ago, the couple’s home turned into ashes when winds from Hurricane Lane helped fuel a fire that encroached onto their property in Lahaina.
This week, the yellow, two-story house they rebuilt became rubble – once again – as Hurricane Dora helped whip up winds that fanned deadly fires across Maui and Hawaii’s Big Island.
“I feel like I’m a veteran of disaster here,” Mark Stefl told CNN. “Everybody in our neighborhood lost everything.”
It took just about three minutes from when Michele Numbers-Stefl first spotted the fire, about a quarter mile away, for the flames to reach their home, she said, as she urged people to heed evacuation orders.
“We ran downstairs, grabbed our dogs and cats … and the fire just engulfed our house,” said Mark Stefl, who added they lost a cat and a dog amid the chaos.
The couple is staying with the same friend they sought refuge with after the 2018 fire.
“I’m literally thankful just to be alive right now,” Mark Stefl said.
In August 2018, three brush fires broke out as Hurricane Lane neared the island, charring more than 2,000 acres in Maui, forcing dozens to flee their homes and knocking out power to thousands of residents.
“The approaching storm stretched public safety resources and complicated the suppression response, with strong winds grounding air support and the fire forcing evacuation of a storm shelter within hours of predicted hurricane landfall,” according to a 2021 report from Maui County.
The fires burned 21 residential structures, 27 vehicles, and an about 150 acres of active farmland, making them among the most destructive in state history, according to the report.
In this week’s wildfires, at least 36 people have been killed, officials said.
Power and communication lines have also been severed by the flames, curtailing contact between loved ones. Hospitals were overcome with patients and more than 2,000 people were in shelters by Wednesday, officials said. Hundreds of structures, including homes and businesses, are impacted.
“The road to recovery will be long,” Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke said Wednesday.
“These were small businesses that invested in Maui. These were local residents. We need to figure out a way to help a lot of people in the next several years,” Luke said. “It’s going to take years.”
Still, Mark Stefl and his wife plan to rebuild – like they did once before.
“We love it here. We have a lot of friends here. We’ll get through this,” he said.