Hawaii wildfires: Chicago volunteers join relief efforts as locals and tourists flee islands

Flights from Hawaii landed in Chicago on Thursday as evacuations continue. Locals and tourists, alike, are scrambling to escape the islands as deadly fires rage across Maui, causing widespread destruction.

"There’s traffic jam-packed everywhere, basically bumper to bumper for people trying to get out. But the roads were blocked in both directions," one traveler said.

At O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal 1, United has one direct flight from Maui to Chicago each day. Friday’s flight has already been canceled; however, some passengers were lucky enough to get out Thursday.

"There’s one highway that leads you to the airport and it was closed off in both directions and we didn’t have much gas to begin with," the traveler said.

With just a quarter tank of gas in his rental car, one man recounted his terrifying experience trying to leave Maui. With the main highway to the airport closed due to burning fires, his only option was to take a dangerous road.


"It’s a one-lane road, but it’s for two lanes of traffic, and it’s on a mountain pass without guardrails for some portion of it, it’s very windy," he said. "They said, ‘oh you really don’t want to drive through it,’ so it’s like, drive at your own risk."

In his case, it paid off as he is now safely back in Chicago, but before he made that trek, he could see the wildfires burning from his hotel balcony.

"Especially at nighttime, when it’s dark, you can see the fire very clearly. In the daytime you see a lot of smoke, but at night you see the orange glow."

Meanwhile, as many more people try to escape, Paul Bamman is heading directly for disaster.

"We’ll be there for the weeks and months ahead to help them recover, whatever the need is, and we're going to be there to support them," said Bamman.

An American Red Cross volunteer, the Frankfort, Ill. man is no stranger to catastrophe.

Since he began donating his time to the organization in 2018, he's been deployed across the nation more than a dozen times.

He will be flying to Hawaii Friday morning and is set to arrive by the afternoon.

"What the American Red Cross is doing while we speak, is we’re ramping up to go out there and support all those folks that were affected by these horrible fires," said Bamman. "Our task is to make sure that these shelters that have been set up out there are resupplied everyday so we don’t miss a beat in taking care of the clients in need."

Upwards of 200 American Red Cross volunteers from across the nation are expected to assemble in Hawaii over the coming days and weeks, according to a spokeswoman.

To donate to the organization’s effort, CLICK HERE.