A small number of active-duty U.S. Marines have joined the effort to assist the recovery efforts in Maui after last week’s devastating Lahaina wildfire.
Crews from Marine Aerial Refueler Squadron 153 flew active-duty service members from Oahu to Maui on Monday to establish a command-and-control element that will coordinate further U.S. military support.
The Hawaii National Guard, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are already on the ground, but a larger U.S. active duty response needs a formal request from Hawaii to begin operations there. The establishment of a cell could signal a wider Defense Department effort is about to begin.
On Monday, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the military wants to help but did not want to rush in personnel without coordination, so as to not create further logistical problems for recovery efforts. He said the National Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard are already assisting. Hawaii is home to tens of thousands of active duty military personnel, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and Navy, Marine and Air Force installations, with ships and aircraft that could assist in flying in supplies or personnel.
Hawaii officials are working painstakingly to identify the 99 people confirmed killed in the wildfires that ravaged Maui. Just three bodies have been identified so far and officials will start releasing names on Tuesday, according to Maui Police Chief John Pelletier, who renewed an appeal for families with missing relatives to provide DNA samples. He said crews using cadaver dogs have scoured about 25% of the search area, and Hawaii Gov. Josh warned that scores more bodies could be found. A week after a blaze tore through historic Lahaina, many who survived have started moving into hundreds of hotel rooms set aside for those displaced by the blaze. The governor asked for patience and space to do the search properly as authorities became overwhelmed with requests to visit the burn area.
The multi-agency fire response has already been stymied by logistical issues and communication challenges, particularly during evacuations when sirens failed to sound and roadblocks hindered residents from leaving.
“Indo-Pacom is on a hair trigger to be able to support as necessary,” Ryder said. “Everyone fully understands the pain that people are experiencing right now. We want to do everything we can help. But we also don’t want to contribute to the problem by sending unnecessary capabilities that then will hinder any type of emergency response.”
So far 250 Hawaii Army National Guard and Air National Guard members are assisting recovery operations, Army National Guard helicopters have dropped more than 189,000 gallons of water on the wildfires, the Army Corps of Engineers have sent debris removal teams and power experts and the Army Reserve has provided space to collect and distribute supplies, Ryder said.