Mother who lost her home to Maui wildfires finds hope in a single photo found by a stranger

Mother who lost her home to Maui wildfires finds hope in a single photo found by a strangerMother who lost her home to Maui wildfires finds hope in a single photo found by a stranger
Michelle De Pacina
August 16, 2023
A mother who lost her Lahaina home and all of her belongings to the Maui wildfires found hope in a single photograph of her late great-grandmother that was found by a stranger miles away on Lāna’i beach.
“Glimpse of hope”: Aubrey Vailoces, 36, was at home with her mother, her partner and their three children last week when fire alarms went off as thick, black smoke enveloped their entire neighborhood. In an interview with Good Morning America (GMA), Vailoces said she was not able to carry any of her belongings with her as they rushed to evacuate the area. 
The family received devastating news the next morning: their whole house had been reduced to ashes. The only thing left from the home was a slightly burned photo showing Vailoces at her high school graduation with her late great-grandmother, who had raised her through childhood in the Philippines as her parents worked in the U.S. The photo was found by a stranger who shared it on social media, where a friend of Vailoces spotted it before alerting her.
“[The photo] got burned on the side, but my face and her face are just perfect. It wasn’t even ruined,” Vailoces told GMA. 

“I don’t know if it flew to Lana’i or it went through the ocean tide, no idea, but somehow it made it. It’s just like a glimpse of hope. [My great-grandmother] composed this thick album of every birthday, graduations and hospital pictures and whatnot … and that was the very last page of the album, because that’s when I graduated high school and I was about to move to America with my parents.”

When the photo was found, Vailoces also realized that everything from her family’s house was gone as the picture was stored in a “very thick [photo] album under the girls’ bed, on the second floor.” Aside from destroyed houses, Vailoces noted that her daughters’ school and her jewelry making business were also demolished in the fires. She worries that people outside of Maui will forget about the tragedy in a few days, leaving the community with 10 years of rebuilding.
However, she holds onto the piece of her late great-grandmother as a sign of hope. “My great-grandmother is so good at directing me with my life, so I think she somehow just gave me that very last picture just to give me hope that we’ll make it, even if everything is gone,” Vailoces said.
Death toll update: As of Monday evening, officials announced that the number of confirmed deaths had risen to 106. The Maui wildfires are described as the deadliest in the nation in more than a century with losses approaching $6 billion. 
The death toll is still expected to rise as more than 1,000 people remain missing and only 32% of the affected areas have been searched. Maui Police Chief John Pelletier hopes that 85% to 90% of the affected areas will have been searched by the weekend. 
Wildfires status: According to officials, the Lahaina fire is 85% contained and the Upcountry fire is 75% contained as of Tuesday. Although not fully extinguished, the County of Maui also reported the Pulehu/Kihei fire to be 100% contained.
Biden’s visit: President Joe Biden, who has been criticized for his lack of public response to the wildfires, and First Lady Jill Biden will be visiting Maui on Aug. 21 to meet with first responders, survivors and officials.
On Tuesday at a speaking engagement in Milwaukee, the president mourned the loss of life and “generations of native Hawaiian history turned into ruin,” noting that Hawaii will have “every asset they need” for ongoing recovery and rebuilding efforts. 
“Every asset they need will be there for them. And we’ll be there in Maui as long as it takes, as long as it takes, and I mean that sincerely,” Biden said.
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