Watch CBS News

Mother recounts desperate effort to save son killed in Maui fires before 15th birthday: "Threw myself on the floor"

A ceremony was held at a park to honor the life of Keyiro Fuentes on Sunday — what would have been his 15th birthday. The teen was home alone enjoying the last day of summer vacation when flames tore through his town of Lahaina. 

His adoptive mother tried to race back to their burning neighborhood to rescue him, but she couldn't reach him in time. 

"I wish I could've made more memories with him," said Keyiro Fuentes' brother, Josue Garcia Vargas. "He was too young. If he still had time. I know he would've been a very, very, very good man."

The devastating wildfires on Hawaii's Maui island — the deadliest in the U.S. in over a century — killed at least 114 people. According to the Maui County mayor, 850 people remain unaccounted for.  

Luz Vargas, Fuentes' adoptive mother who runs a local cleaning service, was working five miles away. When she and her husband Andres learned fire was ravaging the area, they raced toward home but encountered traffic at a standstill, so she took off running. 

"I was told, 'Don't go, don't go,' but I responded, 'My son,'" Vargas said. 

She then faced a police barricade.  

"I threw myself on the floor, lifted my hands up and begged God," she said.

After running past the officers, Vargas said a man on a motorbike took her to the front line of the fire where a team of first responders assured her that the area had been cleared. She said she was told no one was there, and to have faith her son got out.

Two days later, when Vargas made it to her devastated home, she discovered Fuentes' lifeless body hugging his dead dog. 

"He was not as I expected, in ashes. God maintained him like this. So, we knew it was him," she said. 

Vargas' husband and her son Josue wrapped Fuentes' remains in a tarp and carried his body half a mile to a police station. Now the family is left grieving not only what was lost, but also what could have been. 

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are slated to visit the fire-ravaged region Monday, surveying the aftermath of the wildfires and offering support to survivors.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.