Hawai‘i Island police officers help Maui secure Lāhainā in aftermath of deadly blaze
September 5, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
While on assignment on Maui to help the local police department secure Lāhainā after the deadly Aug. 8 blaze, Big Island police officer Bradley Llanes met with his grandmother, Lillian Suter, 87, who was staying with family in Wailuku.
He listened as she told him how she tried to save her home of 60-plus years from the fire that whipped through West Maui with the thrust of hurricane-force winds.
“The fire happened really quick,” his grandmother told him on Aug. 11.
“She tried to spray her roof down to protect her house but the wind was blowing so hard that the water didn’t even touch the roof,” Llanes said. “She escaped with her life, a few family members and three dogs.”
He said it was heartbreaking to hear her story, which including spending three nights in a beach park with other family members before she found shelter with other relatives in Wailuku.
“I could tell she was trying to stay strong, but a part of life was gone,” he said.
Llanes was part of the first group of 12 officers that Hawai‘i Island Police Chief Ben Moszkowicz sent to help Maui since the fire destroyed Lāhainā and killed at least 115 people.
On Friday, a fourth group left for Maui, while the third group returned.
“People in Maui, and especially those in Lāhainā are struggling,” Moszkowicz said. “That includes the officers who live and work there. If there is anything we can do to support them, it’s not only our responsibility but our privilege to do it.”
Moszkowicz said Hawai‘i Police Department will continue to assist Maui until they are no longer needed.
Officer Dwayne Sluss with the Kona Community Policing Section was also among the first group sent to Maui. He said they relieved exhausted Maui police officers.
Hawai‘i Island officers started their week working overnight shifts of up to 16 hours. They helped secure roads to keep people out of burned ares throughout the West Maui community and also did whatever else local law enforcement needed.
Going into Lāhainā Town, Sluss said he knew they would see devastation, but he didn’t know how widespread it would be.
“There were still smoldering areas. Trees had small fires in the trunks. It was a bio hazardous zone,” Sluss said. “Fortunately, I didn’t see any bodies but I did see a couple animals and that tugged at the heart strings.”
While patrolling the subdivisions, Sluss saw cars half way out of the driveway or in turn lanes positioned in weird angles.
“What made them stop?” Sluss questioned. “I can’t even imagine what would be going through your head except fear. And, I don’t know if they made it out.”
Llanes recalled one night working on Front Street and approaching the traffic jam of torched vehicles. He couldn’t take another step as he felt tears well up.
“It was tough seeing the devastation,” he said.
Sluss didn’t cry until a day or two after coming home. He said: “You suck it up, you hold it in. You got a job to do.
“All of us wanted to do more. My heart goes out to the people of Maui,” Sluss said.
When Llanes wasn’t working on Maui, he visited family still living in West Maui and was able to take potable water to seven family members.
Llanes said he may do more. With the recovery to last a long time, he said he is thinking about taking a leave of absence from the department to volunteer with the American Red Cross on Maui.