Boise State’s Kaniho ‘playing for those guys’ in fire-devastated home state of Hawaii

When news of the deadly Maui wildfires broke, Boise State cornerback Kaonohi Kaniho’s first instinct was to go home to Hawaii to help.

“I definitely had that thought in mind,” Kaniho said. “But my dad made sure that all was OK with them, and I knew that they were taking care of them, so he told me to stay up here and keep working hard.”

Kaniho, a 6-foot, 180-pound redshirt junior from Kahuku, on the island of Oahu, said his family is originally from the devastated town of Lahaina. He estimates that at least 40 of his relatives have been affected by the fire, which began Aug. 8 and has claimed the lives of more than 100 people, with more than 1,000 still missing.

“My family actually lost their houses and cars and everything they had,” Kaniho said. “They’re staying with one of my uncles on the other side of the island right now.

“I mean, they’re blessed still. They’re always texting us that they love us and they’re so thankful for us, just because they didn’t think they were going to make it out. It really opened their eyes to life and the quality of life that we have.”

The hall of historic Waiola Church in Lahaina and nearby Lahaina Hongwanji Mission are engulfed in flames along Wainee Street on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii.
The hall of historic Waiola Church in Lahaina and nearby Lahaina Hongwanji Mission are engulfed in flames along Wainee Street on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii.

Kaniho said his great-grandfather was one of 16 children, so family ties run deep in Lahaina. The city has largely been wiped out, with 2,707 structures damaged or destroyed and 2,170 acres burned. ABC reported that 86% of the buildings exposed to the fire were classified as residential.

“I would obviously love to be there to help them out and be there for them,” Kaniho said. “But I’m texting them every day, calling them and making sure they’re OK now. My mom and dad are shipping them generators, all kinds of stuff, electric stoves, whatever they need. They’re doing their part, and I’m trusting them to help them out.”

One of the hardest parts of the ordeal was waiting to hear from family once the tragedy unfolded, Kaniho said. Thankfully, the redshirt junior said his family is all accounted for.

“There was definitely scary days and hours after we saw what was happening, because the communication was down,” Kaniho said. “But we knew that they were taking care of themselves and they would find a way through it, which is what they did.”

Focusing on football has given Kaniho a job to do, he says, when he can’t be on the islands to help personally. Kaniho has started 17 games the past two seasons and is among the players trying to shore up a secondary that lost several key starters.

“Obviously, we’re super busy during camp and our schedule is packed, so they’re always in the back of my head,” Kaniho said. “I have a reason to play even more than just my daughter, but it’s playing for those guys, and I know they want me to do my best in everything I do.”