The fire turned the Lahaina family’s dream to ashes
HeyOn a Sunday morning seven weeks after the Lahaina Fire, Randy Daddez sits on the couch in his FEMA-funded room at the Fairmont Hotel in Wailea, a resort area about 45 minutes south of Lahaina, and scrolls through social media.
He is wearing his favorite Harley Quinn T-shirt, one of his only clothes to survive the fire. At his feet are boxes of donated dinner sausages that the family can’t cook in a hotel room without any kitchen utensils.
“Three thousand?” he shouted, reading aloud from a Facebook ad for a one-bedroom apartment for rent. “are you kidding?”
The Daddies lived in a neighborhood where landlords charged rents that spa drivers, like Randy, and spa receptionists, like his wife, Marylou, could afford. They paid $2,400 a month, including utilities, for a beige, two-bedroom Ohana unit on Kaniao Road.
But it seems that such rentals do not exist anymore.
“Oh, how so!” Randy calls out. Another social media post caught his attention, regarding a donation drive at Lahaina Beach Park.
He says to his wife: “Look how beautiful the things they are handing out are.” “See? Shoes, boogie board, fishing poles. See! New motorcycles.”
Kobe, the couple’s 9-year-old son, engrossed in a game on his iPad, cocks his head up.
“I want a fishing rod!” Kobe pleads. “Dad, can we go there?”
Randy checks the time on his phone.
“Oh man,” he says. “It’s already started. There are so many people there, it’s already gone. By the time we get there it will all be over.”
Rebuilding for the next generation
RAndy Daddez had been saving money to rebuild the 1938 farmhouse he grew up in on Hubbelli Street when the Aug. 8 bushfire burned it down, too.
Four generations of Dadaese have lived under its corrugated metal roof, starting with his great-grandfather, who immigrated to Lahaina from the Philippines with his pregnant wife in 1924 to work in the city’s sugar fields. Randy’s father, an Air Force veteran and former MMA fighter, recently lived in the house, while Randy and his family rented a place a few streets away, in the Wahikule subdivision of Lahaina.
Shaded by an ancient mango tree, the 85-year-old house, the nucleus of the Daddies’ extended family, is located just two blocks from Lahaina’s famous Front Street. The backyard had a chicken coop and a garden of vegetables essential to Filipino cooking.
The home was uninsured when it caught fire. Although the lot he occupied was valued at more than half a million dollars, the house itself was worth only $56,000, according to county real estate records.
It was Randy’s dream to one day tear it down and build something new as an anchor of continuity and stability for his four children, ages nine to 21, who faced an uncertain future in Maui’s tough housing market. In his vision, he and his wife Marylou, as well as his parents, would live there as well.
Suddenly, this vision became urgent.
But the reconstruction process is now marred by the complexities of a federally funded disaster cleanup. Local authorities advised patience, and expected it would take two years or more before property owners could begin rebuilding their homes in Lahaina.
“People are dying there”
RAndy Daddez was working as a bus driver in a resort town north of Lahaina on the evening of Aug. 8 when the fire began burning around the family’s rental home. His wife and children were at home asleep. The heat of the flames woke them up and sent them on a frantic dash to safety. Marilou doesn’t drive, so it was up to her eldest daughter, Rihanna, to get the family out of the horrific scene.
While his family was on the run, Randy tried to return home. But there was a dead end. The police officer did not allow him to enter the neighborhood where he lived.
Randy said the officer told him, “I can’t let you in because people are dying in there.”
So he made a U-turn. He was on the Honoapiilani Highway heading north when he recognized the license plate of a 2001 Honda Accord on the road ahead of him with his family inside.
The Daddies spent the night sleeping in their cars in the parking lot of the Kapalua Resort, with Randy shuttling tourists between their hotels and nearby attractions.
The next day, the family headed south to Kahului, where they were met by members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Daddies were shocked to discover that it simply did not matter that in Lahaina they were Catholic or that they had not attended a church service of any affiliation in many years. The group treated them as one of their own.
When the Daddies arrived, a volunteer handed Marylou $800 in cash. The volunteer then guided her to a preschool classroom, where there were new air mattresses, pillows, blankets, and new clothes and underwear for her and her family.
cried Marilou. Randy immediately decided that he would start going to church again. The family lived in the church for two weeks.
“I want to say I owe them a lot, and that’s what I do,” Randy says. “But then, you know, what I learned from them is that God led me to that church. And God was helpful. And I really thought about that. Well, whatever, whatever, it helped a lot, you know?”
After the Dadaists moved from the church to a hotel room paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), they returned to the church every Saturday for Sabbath worship.
Returning home brings shock and closure
TThree days after the fire, the family returned to Lahaina to see what was left of their home.
Authorities posted at the neighborhood’s entry point let them in to search the ruins of their rental property for photo albums, jewelry, and their pet fish, Bubbles.
But there was nothing to recover from. Just ash and twisted metal.
“I wish I hadn’t seen that because it hurts me,” Marilou Daddez says.
But for Randy Daddez, seeing the wreckage helped him make sense of it all.
“Have you ever heard of this thing called ghost feeling?” Randy says. “When you lose a finger or a hand, it feels like it’s still there. That’s what it felt like. Until we could go back and see for ourselves, it seemed like home would be there. We had to see it for ourselves for reality to set in.”
While seeing the wreckage of their home provided the family with some comfort, Marylou says it may have also exacerbated her children’s trauma.
When school started in October, 9-year-old Kobe exploded in an anxiety attack in front of his classmates, calling for mom and dad. Their 12-year-old daughter, Samara, skipped lunch and hid in the bathroom during the first week of school.
“There’s nothing to cry about”
IAfter nearly 12 weeks of searching for a place to live, the family has come up with nothing. Nothing suitable for seven people (family, plus eldest daughter’s boyfriend). Nothing they can afford.
With most of Lahaina’s 13,000 residents displaced, prices have soared beyond the Daddies’ means due to the dual pressures of inflated competition and a long-standing shortage of affordable housing.
Above all, the family wants to stay together while they recover. But as time goes on, they find it increasingly difficult to try to resume some form of normal life while staying in a hotel.
Marilu longs to cook pork adobo and other Filipino meals for her family. But she can’t get to the kitchen. Countertop appliances such as rice cookers and hotplates are prohibited in hotels.
Then there’s the looming stress of not knowing when they’ll get the phone call saying they have 48 hours to move to another resort. In more than two months, the family moved three times, from the church to the Wailea resort and, in late September, to the Hyatt in Lahaina.
Adding to the stress is the financial toll of Randy being temporarily out of work while visitors stayed away from West Maui until the tourism reopening plan began last month.
Marylou’s migraines are becoming more severe and more frequent, making it unlikely that she will soon be able to return to her part-time job as a receptionist at a hotel spa. She describes the pain in her head as daily and crippling. She wonders if the stress of an uncertain future is causing her symptoms to worsen.
Randy says he only cried once in the aftermath of the disaster.
“Have you ever heard of Mount Pinatubo?” he says, referring to the volcano in the Philippines, where he was born on a US Air Force base. “When this broke out, my cousins and my family were over there living in pig pens. The government gave them – one time – one bag of rice, one can of sardines and water. That was it. That was the only help I got. So I have nothing to cry about.”
Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.