Operation Recovery Malibu transitions to Operation Recovery Maui

This aerial photo shows some of the damage from the wildfire in Lahaina, on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Photo Courtesy of Bill Kerbox

Former Malibu resident who lived through Woolsey Fire takes his expertise to help stricken Maui 

When former Malibu resident Bill Kerbox learned of the deadly fire in Lahaina, Hawaii, he boarded a plane to Maui as fast as he could. Kerbox, who grew up in Oahu, lived in Malibu for 12 years until the Woolsey Fire caused severe smoke damage to his home, making it unlivable.

Still, Kerbox became a key member of Operation Malibu Recovery, a group spearheaded by former Malibu Times publishers Arnold and Karen York after they lost their home in 1993’s Old Topanga Fire. Kerbox was key in helping victims who lost homes in Woolsey and he is doing so again in Maui.

Kerbox had already jumped into action in Malibu after 2018’s blaze when, as he said, “We realized people were being kept out. People needed supplies, food, fuel.” Kerbox said he and a friend, Lance Strumpf, organized a yacht and “worked with a lot of people” loading thousands of pounds of supplies, batteries and food into Paradise Cove. 

“They were trying to keep us out,” he said. “The captain was threatened by the Coast Guard. We heard there were people who needed shovels, gas, generators, so our supplies were delivered to Point Dume and distributed.” 

The national press took interest. 

“After that it became clear that we needed to start disseminating information to fire victims,” Kerbox said. “People needed information on what to do, how to get insurance, legal advice.” 

Kerbox helped steer Operation Recovery Malibu to help do that. 

Woolsey Fire victims met at the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue and then at the Malibu Library for informational meetings with attorneys, real estate professionals, and insurance agents. “We were a conduit for this information,” Kerbox said.

A videographer, Kerbox livestreamed the meetings to the rest of the community. “One of the most innovative things we did was helping people who were bombarded by attorneys and insurance companies,” he said.

Operation Malibu Recovery worked as a clearing house of sorts, vetting legal firms, insurance agents, and others to make presentations on what they could do best for Woolsey victims. 

When the Maui fire struck, Kerbox immediately went into action. He has close ties to the island as he grew up in Oahu and has family in Maui, saying “we’re connected.” He knew he could use his experience in Malibu to help Maui. He termed it his “calling.” 

Kerbox and Strumpf, formed OperationRecoveryMaui.org as a nonprofit. The Kerbox family name is well-known in Hawaii as his brother, Buzzy Kerbox, won a World Surfing Championship representing Hawaii and with Laird Hamilton invented tow-in surfing on mega waves. With Buzzy’s help and name recognition, the nonprofit has hit the ground running.

“We’re using video and social media as our voice,” Kerbox stated. Using drone footage, Kerbox captures on video what is happening in off-limits areas to confirm or deny unsubstantiated reports. The nonprofit supplies drone videos of destroyed property to victims. 

“We have footage of every home that was burned that we’re making available to people who need it for insurance claims,” Kerbox said.

Initial funding was provided by a “generous real estate brokerage,” according to Kerbox. A boots-on-the-ground approach is being used because his organization and others have been frustrated by the red tape associated with government relief. 

“Our organization is going to champion giving resources to people directly on a one-on-one basis,” Kerbox said. “The thing we did successfully in Malibu was these big meetings. Here it’s more challenging.There’s no phone service, computers. It’s dangerous here. There’s anger beyond comprehension; frustration, it’s just beginning.” 

Kerbox was among 20 people who erected 150 crosses at the Kamehameha property above Lahaina tying 1,100 ribbons there. 

“We absolutely believe that there are 900 people missing,” he said. “We do not believe what we’re hearing at all. Nobody does. People here are furious. They just want the truth. It’s very chaotic here.

“People here are concerned about a land grab, but the big issue now is the toxic waste. If that gets into the ocean it will be Armageddon for Hawaii.” 

Kerbox explained many old structures built in Lahaina, Maui’s cultural gem, used cane plywood that contains arsenic. He fears a wind event could blow the residue gas, oils, plastics, asbestos, and other hazardous materials throughout the islands.

Kerbox bought a one-way ticket to Maui with no idea when he’ll return home, saying “This is the long haul. A lot of people from Malibu are Maui people and they need help. A lot is on the line.”

See more at Operationrecoverymaui.org