Two friends stayed in the pool for hours before escaping the Maui wildfires

Cristina Lee-Garrido watched as buildings burned around her and clouded the air in Lahaina, Hawaii, making it difficult to breathe.

Lee-Garido and a friend stood in a swimming pool with washcloths over their faces — the only place they thought they’d be safe as an inferno began to ravage Maui, turning out to be the nation’s worst wildfire in more than a century.

The two were on vacation to the island when they were caught in a forest fire on August 8. The two stood for hours at the pool at the Lahaina condominium complex that evening, using an iPhone’s SOS as the wildfire’s extent was unknown. A feature to connect with emergency services. They waited in the water until firefighters rescued them that night.

“I had no choice but to jump into that pool,” said Lee-Carrido, 54.

Lee-Garido, who served as a nurse in the Navy, has been to Hawaii more than 10 times since the 1990s. This year, she and her childhood best friend, Misty Guantonio, decided to take a trip together, in part to celebrate Guantonio’s birthday on August 8.

The two arrived in Lahaina the night of Aug. 6 and spent the next day relaxing at the complex’s pool, where they rented condos with other vacationers. Before heading into town, Lee-Corrido and Guantonio walked around the compound and noticed the back gate was locked.

“I don’t know why they lock this gate,” said Guantonio, always focused on security aspects. “We might have to go to the main road.”

The next morning, Hurricane Dora’s winds blew through Lahaina, leaving the building where the two were staying without power or internet.

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Around 5 p.m., Lee-Carrido awoke from a nap to find smoke outside the condo. Through a window, she could see a cabana on fire at the front of the compound.

She didn’t remember any alerts going out and thought it was an isolated fire. But then, thick black smoke began to fill their room, Lee-Carrido said.

“In my mind, I thought, ‘Oh my God, did I sleep through some kind of magical alarm to save my life?’ I’m like, “This is the worst.”

Lee-Corrido and Guantonio hurriedly grabbed their wallets, electronics, towels and wet washcloths to cover their mouths before heading outside. The smoke was so thick they couldn’t see each other, relying on their voices to stay close to each other.

Lee-Corrido thought it was the only place she knew where they wouldn’t “burn to death.” She and Guantonio yelled back and forth at each other as they made their way there, dodging the debris and lava that fell around them.

After 10 minutes they reached the pool. There was no one there and they didn’t see anyone around the compound on the way.

As soon as they jump into the water, Lee-Carrido and Guantonio try to figure out where the fire is coming from and how to get help.

At first, Lee-Carrido and Guantonio thought they were going to be okay, as the wind slowed and the smoke cleared. The pool house was burning, but the other buildings around it were not.

They didn’t realize the fire was raging across Lahaina.

The couple had no cell service, but Guantonio activated the SOS feature on his iPhone by simultaneously pressing the power and volume buttons. An emergency service attendant told them to stay in the pool because of the many fires and instructed them to send another message if they felt they were in danger.

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Over the next two hours the wind picked up again, and every rental unit around the pool was engulfed in flames. Guantonio sent a message to emergency services about 7:30 p.m. informing them of the extent of the fire.

After about half an hour they heard a loud noise.

“That’s the back door,” Guantonio told Le-Corrido. Firefighters broke it down.

Three firefighters helped the friends out of the pool, and they returned to the waiting yellow EMS truck on the main road outside the complex.

“They’re angels,” Lee-Corrido said.

During the trip to a triage area, Lee-Corrido recalled looking in the rearview mirror to see “everything was on fire.”

She and Guantonio stayed in Maui-area shelters for a few days, then returned to the mainland on Saturday after staying with friends in Honolulu.

At home in Issaquah, Wash., Lee-Garido sat and turned on her television to watch news about the Maui wildfires on every major station.

“That’s when I fell apart,” she said. “That’s when I realized what had happened.”

In the days since she’s recounted the experience to friends and family, Lee-Carrido has heard almost the same response from those she’s spoken to: “You know, you’re lucky. It could have turned out differently.”

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