Episcopal church presumed destroyed as wildfires on Hawaiʻi’s Maui kill at least 36

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Aug 10, 2023

Intersection at Hokiokio Place and Lahaina Bypass on Hawaiian island of Maui. Photo: Zeke Kalua/County of Maui

[Episcopal News Service] Three separate wildfires have killed at least 36 people since Aug. 8 and destroyed hundreds of buildings on the Hawaiian island of Maui, likely including an Episcopal church, prompting the evacuation of thousands of people.

The worst of the wildfires has caused widespread damage to the island’s western community of Lahaina — which has a population of nearly 13,000 — where Holy Innocents Episcopal Church had stood since 1927. Its vicar, the Rev. Bruce DeGooyer, said in a comment on Facebook that the church was presumably leveled by the fires, based on photos he had seen of the area, though he hadn’t yet been able to inspect the church himself as of Aug. 9.

This story will be updated as Episcopal News Service receives more details and is able to reach Episcopal leaders in Hawaiʻi.

An Aug. 9 post on Holy Innocents’ Facebook page asked parishioners to share how they are doing. So far, it has received more than 100 offers of prayer and condolences from both local residents and people living throughout the continental U.S. who’ve visited the church before.

Holy Innocents was founded in the late 19th century, and its first parish was built in 1872. In 1927, the church moved into a new and bigger building with a vicarage and parish hall. That remained the parish’s home until it succumbed to this week’s wildfire — the deadliest in Hawaiʻi’s history. The congregation was in the middle of a capital campaign to raise money for renovations when the wildfires started.

The fires were impelled by strong winds brushing through dry vegetation as Hurricane Dora, a Category 4 cyclone, passed near Hawaiʻi without making landfall. The islands of Hawaiʻi and Oahu also experienced wildfires, albeit to much lesser extents than Maui.

President Joe Biden has ordered federal assets to Hawaiʻi to assist with fire response. The Hawaiʻi National Guard is currently helping with fire suppression and search-and-rescue efforts.

In an Aug. 9 statement, Hawaiʻi Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick asked for prayers for those impacted by the wildfires.

“Because of evacuations, downed landlines and cell towers, and the chaos of the situation, we have no confirmation of the extent of damage or of those impacted,” he said. “Please pray for those impacted by the fires.”

There are four Episcopal churches on Maui, the second-largest Hawaiian island: Church of the Good Shepherd in Wailuku, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kula, Trinity Episcopal Church By-the-Sea in Kihei and Holy Innocents Episcopal Church in Lahaina. St. John’s will host an emergency food pantry Friday, and Good Shepherd is currently accepting donations for disaster relief, including water, nonperishable food items and clothing.

The Hawaiʻi diocese is coordinating immediate relief efforts through its homeless assistance ministry, A Cup of Cold Water, which is based in Maui. The diocese is also accepting online donations for the ministry through the bishop’s pastoral fund.

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.