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"Like a war zone": Sacramento tourists escape deadly flames in Maui

California families scramble to leave Hawaii after devastating Maui fires
California families scramble to leave Hawaii after devastating Maui fires 04:26

SACRAMENTO — 53 people are confirmed dead in wildfires that devastated Maui and popular tourist towns like Lahaina in Hawaii. 

Tourists arrived home to the Sacramento International Airport on Thursday night, grateful to be back but shaken after seeing such devastation.

It was a nightmare of a vacation for families whose hearts are with those still in Hawaii.

"It was scary. We just wanted to get out. We are stuck in paradise," said passenger Arnie Inofinada at Sac International Thursday. 

But it was paradise lost in Lahaina as California families navigated closed roads and a scorched town to get off the island.

"They were blocking traffic so nobody could get off the west side, you couldn't get to Lahaina you couldn't get to the airport," said one tourist, Heidi, who touched down Thursday evening. 

The beauty of Hawaii was shrouded by smoke and flames.

"From what we saw it looks like a literal warzone," Miguel Mercado. "It's just heartbreaking."

"The restaurant we went to eat at was burned down," said Inofinada. 

Heidi told CBS13 her vacation home in Maui was just five miles from the flames.

It was much too close for comfort and a painful reminder of California's deadliest wildfire. It's a nightmare they too have lived before. 

"We lived between Chico and Paradise during the Camp Fire. This is not our first fire. When we talked to the National Guard this morning, that smell, everything came rushing back to us," said Heidi. 

She and other tourists are thankful to be home though part of their hearts are left in Maui for those who couldn't escape paradise. 

"Maui is our love. We try to go as often as we can. It just breaks our heart to know these people are going through," said Heidi. 

Wednesday night at the airport was a similar scene for families returning home to Sacramento. 

"I was biting my nails and I was just praying the whole time because there was just fires all around us," said Kim Prior, who touched down at 7 p.m. Wednesday on a Hawaiian Airlines flight. "We were very sad for the people who live there and have to live through this, but grateful we can come home."

Cydney Doerres is another Sacramento resident who was in a race against time to get out of Maui. 

"It just looked like a war zone, building after building — some we had been shopping in within the last couple of days, just completely demolished," Doerres said. "We saw one house that was still engulfed in flames and it was just terrifying getting through."

These two families are among thousands who sought emergency shelter overnight as the fires continued to rage, driven by winds from Hurricane Dora. Lahaina, the popular tourist town of about 9,000 people, has been reduced to ashes. 

"They were saying people were jumping into the ocean to get away from the flames, and it's just so freaking scary," Doerres said.

As the number of homes and neighborhoods destroyed continues to grow, locals have nowhere to go. Officials are warning they do not have the resources to provide long-term shelter for the overwhelming number of people who need it.

"Absolute sadness. It's a place we've been going to for years and we feel very connected the people there are absolutely amazing," Prior said. "This is their home, their land, where they make their money. People's lives are lost, and their homes are lost."

The American Red Cross from Sacramento and the surrounding region along with local fire crews have deployed to Maui soon to help with disaster relief. 

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