CALIFORNIA— The first confirmed vacationer who perished in the Maui fires that devastated the historic town of Lahaina, has been identified as 72-year-old Theresa Cook from Pollock Pines, near Sacramento on Sunday, August 20.
Cook had been vacationing on the island alone – and was staying in Lahaina at the Best Western Pioneer Inn at 658 Wharf Street – when the fires broke out on Tuesday, August 8. She was scheduled to fly home to Sacramento the following day on Wednesday, August 9.
“She had messaged us and said she was having a wonderful time, and the island was so healing,” Cook’s daughter, Melissa Kornweibel, told KCRA news. According to Kornweibel and Cook’s son, Adam Cook, Hawaii has always been a special place to the family.
Cook reportedly was evacuated from her hotel and was last seen fleeing on foot. She was unable to be reached and was missing for nine days. During that time, Kornweibel and Cook attempted to track down their mother and reportedly sought answers from the Red Cross, the Coast Guard and numerous Facebook groups.
Their questions remained unanswered until this past week, when Kornweibel received the news that their mother was identified as one of the 115 victims of the fire.
“It wasn’t a coordinated effort, just as much as with anybody, they had no warning,” Kornweibel told KCRA. “They were just left to their own devices,” she continued. “I don’t blame anybody, things happen, natural disasters happen, we’re human, we make mistakes and do the best with the information we’re given…but it just wasn’t fast enough and we’re not alone [in this loss].”
The Maui fires are now considered to be the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century, with 115 people confirmed dead and over 1,000 people still missing. 43 have been identified and the names of half of the victims have been released – all, except for Cook, have been identified as Lahaina residents, ranging from ages 45-90-years-old.
Cook is survived by her two children, Melissa Kornweibel and Adam Cook, as well as her grandchildren. Kornweibal and Cook have set up a GoFundMe to aid in the burial costs for their mother.
In an effort to help authorities identify remains, the State of Hawaii is requesting that relatives and family members submit DNA swabs. Maui locals have been submitting DNA samples at the Family Assistance Center in Kaanapali. Those living on the mainland of the United States or on other islands can submit a DNA swab by contacting the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Honolulu Division at 808-566-4300.