Tourists snorkeling, taking photos in Lahaina a 'slap in the face,' Maui resident says

The wildfires are also fanning the flames of resentment that have existed for decades.

ByOsej Serratos, Stephanie Wash, Allie Weintraub and Victor Ordonez ABCNews logo
Tuesday, August 29, 2023
Timeline of the deadliest wildfire in a century
The Associated Press has built a timeline and map of the Maui wildfires after reviewing public documents and interviewing dozens of survivors, public officials and others.

LAHAINA, Hawaii -- In the wake of the wildfires that decimated Lahaina, Maui police set up a road block on Highway 30 that barred everyone but first responders to the historic beachside town. Then, about five days later, officials opened up the road to everyone each day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

In recent days, visitors to the area have also included tourists, who have turned Maui's pain into a spectacle, some locals say.

"Our people haven't even had a time to grieve on our own," Courtney Lazo, whose family has lived on the island for about 10 generations, told ABC News.

The search for loved ones on Maui following the devastating wildfires has grown increasingly dire as the community grieves those lost in the blazes. So far, more than 110 people have been declared dead, with roughly 44 of the deceased identified. Between 1,000 and 1,100 individuals remain unaccounted for following the disaster, as of Aug. 22.

The deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in more than a century devoured homes and businesses, blackened cars and left only ruins in its wake.

The wildfires are also fanning the flames of resentment that have existed for decades, making some feel like tourists matter more than the islanders themselves.

"You have tourists taking pictures of the destruction in Lahaina while there's still bodies there. They're snorkeling off the waters while they're pulling people out of the water. It's just extremely frustrating, and it feels like a slap in the face," Lazo said.

On the road to Lahaina, Lazo's family created a sign that reads "Tourist Keep Out." Her uncle, Vance Dizon, survived the fires and then passionately helped his family make the sign, setting up a chair on the edge of their neighborhood fence and forming what they consider an unofficial checkpoint.

"In this time, it's kind of hard to accept people where, you know, our resources is short," Dizon said.

A girl rides her bike past a sign that says "Tourist Keep Out," in Lahaina, Hawaii, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

At the same time, the issue is complex. Despite the frustration, residents are also aware of the economic pressure to rely on tourism dollars, including Tapani Vuori, general manager of Maui Ocean Center at the Hawaii Aquarium.

"We hear that some of the boats are stopping their operations. They are laying people off. Oh, excuse me, I'm sorry. It's a little bit emotional. We will keep our operations open as long as we can, even if it means we don't have income coming in," Vuori told ABC News.

He also worries about how decreased tourism may affect recovery efforts.

"If it takes longer, it's going to be more painful for more people. So, let's keep it short," Vuori said.

Still, Lazo says her family made the sign because they want tourists to stay away from their pain, and at the same time acknowledging the systemic cycle they are in.

"We definitely understand the value of tourism. Maui is open. Lahaina is closed, respectfully," she said.