Oprah Winfrey has sparked controversy with her recent visit to the War Memorial Complex in Wailuku, which is currently functioning as an emergency shelter for survivors of the devastating Maui Fires.
The media mogul's visit generated headlines after reports emerged that she was denied entry along with a CBS News crew.
While the incident itself reflects Oprah's attempt to help those affected by the fires, it has also amplified an ongoing debate about her presence and actions in Maui in light of her purchases of over 2,000 acres as natives continue to be priced out of their ancestral home.
The Maui Fires have caused significant destruction, claiming the lives of more than 110 people so far and leaving 2,200 structures damaged or destroyed. The tragedy has led to the displacement of approximately 4,500 individuals from their homes.
Oprah's initial visit was met with restrictions imposed by the shelter management. According to reports, the TV mogul was informed that no camera crews or journalists would be allowed inside the shelter to respect the privacy and dignity of those seeking refuge.
Oprah decided to proceed without her CBS News crew and personally engaged with survivors. She gathered information about their needs and subsequently visited local stores to purchase essential supplies, such as pillows, shampoo and diapers, which she distributed to those affected.
While the county of Maui acknowledged Oprah's visit and her understanding of media limitations, her presence on the island has ignited a broader discussion about the impact of her real estate acquisitions and her relationship with the local community.
Oprah has owned over 2,000 acres of land on Maui since the early 2000s, including a recent purchase of 870 acres earlier this year.
Following her visit, Oprah took to Instagram to share a video discussing her interactions with survivors at the shelter and said she "will make a major donation after all of the smoke and ash have settled here and we figure out what the rebuilding is going to look like."
You can see her video below.
Oprah's statement went viral and was criticized by activists who've called on her to address the larger systemic challenges affecting Maui's native population.
Hawaii is grappling with the aftermath of historic wildfires that have left over 1,000 individuals still unaccounted for a week after the blazes ravaged the island. State officials are issuing cautionary warnings that the death toll is expected to rise as search and recovery operations persist.
The fires have already marked their place as among the most deadly wildfires in recent U.S. history. However, the true extent of the destruction remains uncertain and may take time to fully comprehend.
On Tuesday night, Maui County officials disclosed that the fire that consumed a significant portion of Lahaina had scorched an estimated 2,170 acres. Progress in containment efforts was reported at 85% for this blaze.
Another fire, spanning around 678 acres and located on the western slope of Maui, was reported to be 75% contained. Two other fires on the island have been successfully contained.