Several billionaires and other notable figures have publicly pledged financial support toward the state’s wildfire relief efforts as the region suffers unprecedented damage. The fires, which destroyed Maui’s historic town of Lahaina, have caused a reported $5.6 billion in damages and are Hawaii’s deadliest natural disaster since it became a state in 1959. They are also the deadliest wildfires in recent U.S. history.
In addition to the destruction of 2,700 structures, the majority of which were residential, 96 fatalities have been recorded thus far. The fires have also displaced 4,500 residents and led to power outages across the state.
For many, the wildfires hit close to home
Several prominent figures across technology and entertainment own homes on Maui and have responded to the devastation by funneling funds toward organizations fighting the wildfires and providing relief for residents.
Amazon (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos acquired a 14-acre property in Maui for a reported $78 million in 2021, and he and Lauren Sanchez have pledged $100 million to relief efforts through the creation of a Maui Fund. “The immediate needs are important, and so is the longer term rebuilding that will have to happen—even after much of the attention has subsided,” said Sanchez in an Instagram post, adding that the donation will “help Maui get back on its feet now and over the coming years as the continuing needs reveal themselves.”
Meanwhile, Oprah Winfrey, who has lived on the island part-time for 15 years and recently purchased an additional 870 acres for $6.6 million, has visited shelters throughout the region in the wake of the wildfires, bringing supplies like towels and sheets. “At some point I will make a major donation, after all the smoke and ashes have settled here,” said Winfrey in an Instagram video. Although she didn’t provide details on the size or focus of the donation, Winfrey has long been a prominent philanthropist and her eponymous foundation has given out $400 million since 1993, with a focus on youth education and later, Covid relief.
Professional golfer Colin Morikawa, whose grandfather owned a restaurant named The Morikawa in Lahaina that has reportedly burned down, has found a nontraditional way to support the island through the fires, pledging to give $1,000 for each birdie he makes during his PGA tour in August. In a recent Instagram story, Morikawa revealed he has already raised $17,000 for Maui United Way, a nonprofit helping with recovery efforts, and his upcoming financial contributions will benefit the World Central Kitchen as it provides food for those affected by the fires.
Billionaire and philanthropist Bob Parsons’ PXG, a golf equipment and apparel company, announced $1 million gift to Team Rubicon, a veteran-led organization that will put the funds toward immediate relief efforts in Maui. “We have witnessed the dedicated volunteers who make up its ranks fall in to embrace and empower devastated communities,” said Parsons, who has previously pledged to give away the majority of his wealth to charity and has donated around $250 million in the past decade, in a statement. “Today, we look to bolster their efforts in Maui and help their boots on the ground to do what they do best.”
David Duffield, the billionaire dog lover behind software companies PeopleSoft and Workday, is another notable supporter of the wildfire relief efforts on Maui. A longtime supporter of animal welfare in the state, the Dave & Cheryl Duffield Foundation is “working with the Maui Humane Society to ease the suffering of Maui’s companion animals” in the wake of the fires, a spokesperson for the organization told Forbes. Duffield has also supported wildfire relief in the past and gave $3 million in 2021 to assist people and pets impacted by fires in California’s Lake Tahoe region.
And Facebook (META)’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has given an undisclosed amount to the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund with his wife Priscilla Chan with whom he owns a 1,500-acre estate on Kauai. “Watching the impact of the wildfires on Maui is devastating,” said Chan in a Facebook post, adding that “the road to recovery will be long.”
The couple have long focused their philanthropic efforts toward local causes, typically doling out funds through their foundation, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative. In 2018, they donated $1 million to flood relief efforts in Kauai, and in addition to a $1 million donation benefiting Covid relief efforts in Kauai in 2020, Zuckerberg and Chan in January committed $50 million over seven years to fund research programs focused on restoring ocean health at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.