Gio Benitez Describes Maui Fires During First Amendment Awards Speech

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Gio Benitez holding trophy bowl

Good Morning America weekend co-anchor and ABC News transportation correspondent Gio Benitez celebrated the power of the human spirit as he described his experience covering the devastating Maui wildfires of 2023 during his First Amendment Awards acceptance speech. 

Benitez was on vacation on the island in 2023 when wildfires swept through the area, claiming hundreds of lives and destroying entire communities. 

“In the middle of the night, I wake up to nine phone calls from our GMA executive producer, Simone Swink,” Benitez said last month at the Watergate Hotel. “And when I finally answer, confused, of course, because it's now 12:30 in the morning, she says, ‘Are you okay? Are you okay?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, what's going on?’ And she says, ‘We think Maui is burning.’”

Benitez cut his vacation short and became one of the most valuable on-the-ground reporters, asking tough questions of officials who gave conflicting error and documenting the devastation. But it’s not the destruction that he remembers most. 

“I think one of the things that was really important to highlight, and one of the things that's always important for us to highlight, is the strength of the human spirit,” Benitez said. 

His work is not done. The fires, long extinguished, will continue to alter the lives of countless families. He is committed to telling their stories.

“I think that we continue to do that at ABC News with the ‘Maui 808 Project,’ where we're going back every month to continue to tell the story of rebuilding,” Benitez said. “That's really important. Let's keep shining a light on the human spirit because, boy, it is quite incredible.”

Watch his full speech below:

(Photo: BP Miller / Chorus Photography)