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After wildfires, ‘things are looking up,’ Maui reopens to the public

By Connie Lannan

October 10, 2023

Ryan Ouye, president, left, and his son, Rysan, sales representative, in front of their headquarters in Kahului, Maui

Ryan Ouye, president, left, and his son, Rysan, sales representative, in front of their headquarters in Kahului, Maui

After the devastating wildfires that destroyed Lahaina and Kula in Maui, Hawaii, “things are looking up,” says Rysan Ouye, sales representative at Service Rentals & Supplies, which has locations on all the Hawaiian islands, including in Lahaina.

In a Sept. 20, 2023, interview with Rental Management, Ouye shared that “we have some good news. We just opened up our Lahaina branch yesterday after a month-and-a-half of being closed. Our guys are back out in the field and can work directly with the community. We had been waiting as our area was blockaded. They finally removed that and we got electricity back so we could use our computers. The plumbing is back in the area, so the porta-potties we have had there for more than a month have now been taken away from the police department, mayor’s office and the shelters,” he says.

Luckily, the company’s Lahaina location was not affected by the fires. “We were two buildings over from being impacted,” Ouye says, adding that “we did not have any smoke damage. Everything is good. We might have to run an air scrubber for a couple of days. We did lose some equipment that was on rent at job sites, but we didn’t lose any lives. That is important.”

Kula, which is about 40 to 50 minutes from Kahului, where Service Rentals & Supplies has its headquarters, also is seeing progress. “The area is good. Water got to them a lot faster. It was easier because houses are more spread out there. One issue they have is downed trees. They can’t safely remove them off the roads. People are asking for chain saws and lawn-clearing equipment, clearing brush and trying to get ahead of it in case it happens next year,” Ouye says.

Right after the disaster, those at Service Rentals & Supplies went into assistance mode. They provided essential services to the police department, the mayor’s office, the Army, the Department of Water and the American Red Cross as well as to a local community leader who was using the equipment to make sure people in his community were safe. The company also gave out a lot of small generators, waiving the cost for 90 days.

Mario Banaag, one of the employees at Service Rentals & Supplies' Lahaina location, which reopened Sept. 19

Mario Banaag, one of the employees at Service Rentals & Supplies’ Lahaina location, which reopened Sept. 19

In addition, the ARA Foundation matched the equipment donations made by Rysan’s company with a $2,500 check to the Maui United Way. This was done through the ARA Foundations’ Disaster Relief Matching Funds program. This match “means the world,” Ouye says. “I can’t stress how important it is to have a body like the ARA Foundation looking out for us. That speaks volumes to the generosity the ARA Foundation can offer the community.”

Another positive is that “the need for generators has slowed down with the return of electricity. The hotels have opened up their rooms to those who have been displaced. People are on their feet a little better now. That is good news,” Ouye says.

Ouye is grateful none of his employees were directly affected by the wildfires, but he is well aware that with any disaster there can be significant impacts to those who weren’t even in the immediate area. This is particularly true for event rental operators on the island.

“Our event industry brothers and sisters have taken a huge hit and they deserve some love. Lahaina was a huge tourist destination. The message of ‘Don’t come to Maui yet’ kind of got skewed to ‘Don’t come to Maui the rest of the year.’ We have other parts of the island that are more than available to support tourism. I am part of the American Rental Association (ARA) Hawaii Task Force. The event rental side is struggling. Our event brothers and sisters need everyone to know that they are still open for business,” he says.

Gabrielle Richter

Gabrielle Richter

Gabrielle Richter, president, Accel Events & Tents in Oahu and Maui, reiterates that point. “Most events are canceled to year-end. With the west side [of Maui] out of commission, this represents 40 percent of our available venues lost for the foreseeable future. We’re all struggling to see a path to maintaining afloat. We’re hoping to see signs of recovery by next spring, but it is uncertain at this time,” she says.

As planned on Oct. 8, all of Maui reopened to the public. Ouye says that up until that date, everyone going to the impacted areas had to be escorted and monitored. The Oct. 8 decision eliminated that.

Ouye admits it has been a very rough time for those on the island, but he is proud of how his community has rallied after the disaster, helping their neighbors.

“We have had other disasters over the years, from potential tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricane warnings and hurricane-type winds, but we always have each other’s backs. I am not surprised by the actions of our community. This is what I would expect from anyone on Maui,” he says.

Ouye says his company’s efforts are just an example of what his entire community did. “As far as our company, no matter what comes up, we will always donate but always keep enough equipment on the side for our employees and their families. We also supported our employees who were the boots on the ground, helping distribute water and generators. We said we will supply the water and the generators. Just get their information if you give a generator. We care about their efforts as much as they care about their efforts,” he says.

It all boils down to the concept of Ohana, which means family in Hawaiian.

“We have to give back because we don’t survive without the support of our community. We think of our community as family as well. We are trying to show they matter to us. It is not just about the money. Our community has needed us. We have needed to help our community as much as we can,” Ouye says.