Military

The Marines Have Joined the Hawaii Wildfire Recovery Effort

August 15, 2023Associated Press
hawaii wild fires

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. Photo by Matthew Thayer/The Maui News via AP.

By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER, Associated Press

The Associated Press is providing live updates about the wildfires that have devastated parts of Maui in Hawaii, killing dozens of people and destroying the historic town of Lahaina. The wildfires are the deadliest in the U.S. in more than a century. The cause was under investigation. Even where the fires have retreated, authorities have warned that toxic byproducts may remain, including in drinking water, after the flames spewed poisonous fumes.

Marines Join Effort To Assist Wildfire Recovery

A small number of active-duty U.S. Marines have joined the effort to assist Maui’s recovery after last week’s devasting 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.

hawaii wild fires

The charred remains of a vehicle sit near a wildfire-destroyed home Monday, Aug. 14, 2023, in Kula, Hawaii. The same day a wildfire ripped through Lahaina, one tore through Kula, as well. AP photo by Rick Bowmer.

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.

South Korea Pledges $2 Million in Aid For Hawaii

South Korea has pledged $2 million in humanitarian assistance for Hawaii to help respond to damage from the fires in Maui.

Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Tuesday that it “will purchase drinking water, food, blankets and other relief supplies through local Korean marts and deliver them to the Hawaii state government.” It also will donate cash “to local relief groups for the Hawaii state government to use in dealing with the aftermath of the fires.”

hawaii wild fires

People watch as smoke and flames fill the air from raging wildfires on Front Street in downtown Lahaina, Maui on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. Maui officials say wildfire in the historic town has burned parts of one of the most popular tourist areas in Hawaii. County of Maui spokesperson Mahina Martin said in a phone interview early Wednesday fire was widespread in Lahaina, including Front Street, an area of the town popular with tourists. Photo by Alan Dickar via AP.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the alliance between South Korea and the United States. The aid was announced days before a planned summit Friday at Camp David among President Joe Biden, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeo and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

The statement from South Korea also addressed the “deepening humanitarian crisis” triggered by damage from climate change-caused fires, saying it will “take part in the efforts to resolve global issues and will continue to contribute to disaster relief operations overseas in order to fulfill its vision to become a global pivotal state.”

The exact cause of the fires in Maui hasn’t been determined, but a number of factors, including high winds, low humidity and dry vegetation, likely contributed, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, adjutant general for Hawaii State Department of Defense, has said. Experts also said climate change is increasing the likelihood of more extreme weather.

Need For Water To Fight Fires Rekindles Longstanding Environmental Fight

As Hawaii officials claim there is a shortage of water available for firefighters, they're pointing a finger at a recent court ruling that required more water be kept in East Maui streams amid drought and competing demands for use.

hawaii wild fires

The destroyed Waiola Church is shown following wildfire, Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii. Currently, the Maui wildfires are the nation's fifth-deadliest on record, according to research by the National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit that publishes fire codes and standards used in the U.S. and around the world. AP photo by Rick Bowmer.

Environmentalists are pushing back less than a week after the state’s attorney general’s office filed a petition with the Hawaii Supreme Court on Wednesday blaming a senior environmental court judge for there not being enough water for firefighting.

The dispute connects the current blazes to an earlier court battle that pit Hawaiian activists and environmentalists against landowners after decades of diverting water from East Maui streams to sugar cane fields.

As firefighters battled the blazes, a flurry of court actions were lodged last week over access to water. The senior environmental court judge, Jeffrey Crabtree, issued an order temporarily suspending limits on water diversions he imposed in June for 48 hours. He also authorized water distribution requested by Maui fire officials, the county or the state until further notice if the judge could not be reached.

Still, attorneys for Hawaii asked the Supreme Court not to let Crabtree alter the amount of water that could be diverted or to put a hold on his restrictions until the state's petition is resolved.

hawaii wild fires

A group of volunteers who sailed from Maalaea Bay, Maui, form an assembly line on Kaanapali Beach on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, to unload donations from a boat. Maui residents have come together to donate water, food, and other essential supplies to people on the island's western side after a deadly fire destroyed hundreds of homes and left scores of people homeless. AP photo by Rick Bowmer.

The judge “substituted his judgment for that of the agency,” the petition said, referring to the Board of Land and Natural Resources. “As a result, there was not enough permitted water to the battle the wildfires.”

Wayne Tanaka, executive director of Sierra Club, said Monday that the attorney general’s office exaggerated the effect of water diversion caps on firefighting.

“It’s a shameless exploitation of this horrible tragedy,” he said. “The central Maui reservoirs are of no use to west Maui, where most of the devastation is ongoing.”

He said he’s concerned the state is willing to go to these lengths to exploit the tragedy to help a private company monopolize water.

The attorney general’s office said in a statement Monday that former sugar plantation land owner Alexander & Baldwin uses water for wetting the ground for preventative fire suppression, and that Crabtree’s previous orders affect only the central Maui area water supply and “does not directly affect the water situation for Lahaina.”

hawaii wild fires

A tub rests in the middle of a wildfire-destroyed home Monday, Aug. 14, 2023, in Kula, Hawaii. The same day a wildfire ripped through Lahaina, one tore through Kula, as well. AP photo by Rick Bowmer.

Representatives for Alexander & Baldwin and the East Maui Irrigation Company did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. A spokesperson for the Board of Land and Natural Resources said they do not comment on pending litigation.

Feds Roll Out Addition Aid Programs

Federal officials say more than 3,000 people in Maui have registered for various kinds of federal assistance — a number that's expected to grow. FEMA Director of Operations for Response and Recovery Jeremy Greenberg told reporters on Monday that the agency was distributing aid, including $700 one-time payments for critical needs such a water and medical supplies as well as lodging paid for by FEMA.

The Biden administration and the Hawaiian government has launched a transitional shelter assistance program for residents in need of housing, letting them move to hotels or motels, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell told reporters Monday at the White House briefing.

“We’re not taking anything off the table and we’re going to be very creative in how we use our authorities to help build communities and help people find a place to stay for the longer term,” Criswell said.

hawaii wild fires

A spoon, as well as other items, lies in the rubble of a home destroyed by a wildfire on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023, in Kula, Hawaii. Kula was ravaged by a wildfire the same day one ripped through Lahaina. AP photo by Rick Bowmer.

The Biden administration is seeking $12 billion in additional money for the government’s disaster relief fund as part of its supplemental funding request to Congress. Criswell said that “we do have adequate funding to do the response that we’re doing right now,” but that additional money will be needed to continue all of the other ongoing recovery projects through September.

The National Weather Service is monitoring Tropical Storm Greg, which is passing well to the south of Hawaii with minimal effects expected. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Liaison Da’Vel Johnson said they’re mindful of drought and dry conditions on the island but there aren’t any fire-related hazards in effect.

Pentagon: Active Duty Forces Ready to Assist

The U.S. National Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Coast Guard are assisting with recovery efforts in the communities reeling from fires in Maui, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said on Monday.

However, no active duty forced are involved yet, Ryder said. That raises questions as to why not — Hawaii is home to tens of thousands of active duty military personnel, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and major Navy and Air Force installations, with ships and aircraft that could assist in flying in supplies or personnel.

hawaii wild fires

Charred vehicles sit near a wildfire-destroyed home Monday, Aug. 14, 2023, in Kula, Hawaii. The same day a wildfire ripped through Lahaina, one tore through Kula, as well. AP photo by Rick Bowmer.

Ryder said those forces are ready to provide whatever support is requested by Hawaii, but that rushing in resources too quickly could create additional logistics problems for rescue operations on the ground.

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 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.

‘We Are Prepared For Many Tragic Stories,’ Hawaii Governor Says

hawaii wild fires

Destroyed homes and cars are shown, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii. Hawaii officials urge tourists to avoid traveling to Maui as many hotels prepare to house evacuees and first responders on the island where a wildfire demolished a historic town and killed dozens. AP photo by Rick Bowmer.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green says the number of people missing after the wildfires on Maui is dropping as people make contact with relatives and friends. But Green said that “we are prepared for many tragic stories."

The governor spoke during a recorded interview that was aired Monday on “CBS Mornings.” He said that search teams “will find 10 to 20 people per day, probably, until they finish.” Green said the efforts are “probably going to take 10 days,” although he cautioned that “it’s impossible to guess.”

Green said that a comprehensive review will be conducted in the wake of frustrations that sirens and other warnings did not reach or alert residents to the fires. He said the review is “not to find fault in anyone but to say why this worked and this didn’t work.”

The governor noted that medical personnel are not treating more people with burns because the fire “was so perilous that it took lives” and “didn’t leave survivors.” Because the fire was moving so fast, Green said that “it’s unlikely that much could have been done except, of course, moving people out before, and that’s what we’ll talk about.”

Oprah Brings Supplies to Maui Shelter, Calls For More Aid For Fire-Ravaged Evacuees

hawaii wild fires

Donated clothes are gathered in a parking lot, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii, following wildfires that caused heavy damage. AP photo by Rick Bowmer.

Oprah Winfrey has visited an emergency shelter on the fire-ravaged island of Maui to highlight the plight of evacuees.

Hawaii News Now reports that Winfrey said on her visit Sunday that it’s critical that aid gets to residents fast. The TV icon is also a part-time Maui resident.

Winfrey warned that news crews will eventually depart from the destruction, while the world will move on. But she said that “we’re all still going to be here trying to figure out what is the best way to rebuild … I will be here for the long haul, doing what I can.”

Winfrey spoke outside the War Memorial Gymnasium in Wailuku. She said she has delivered personal hygiene products, towels and water in recent days.

Winfrey said the most pressing matter is finding places for people to stay. Winfrey added that her “biggest concern is having the organization that’s needed to get the money that people want to send directly to the people."

Search Efforts in Hawaii Are Going To Move a Little Faster, Official Says

hawaii wild fires

Burnt areas in Lahaina on Maui island, Hawaii, Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, following a wildfire. Photo by Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources via AP.

A state official in Hawaii says the search-and-rescue operation in Maui is taking painstaking efforts to find survivors and victims of last week’s deadly mass fire.

Jeff Hickman is the director of public affairs for the Hawaii Department of Defense. He said on NBC’s “Today” show that teams are “going street by street, block by block between cars, and soon they’ll start to enter buildings.”

Hickman said the Hawaii National Guard has over 110 personnel assisting Maui County with the search and rescue operation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is also on the ground. He said they have about 400 personnel and are providing dogs trained in finding cadavers.

Hickman added that the efforts are “going to start to move a little faster than they have in the past couple of days. And hopefully we bring some closure to those on Maui.”

The number of confirmed deaths stood at 96 around 9 p.m. Sunday, Maui County said in a statement. That number is expected to rise.

Kelleher reported from Honolulu. Contributing to this report were Associated Press journalists Sam Metz in Salt Lake City; Tara Copp and Josh Boak in Washington; Ty O’Neil and Claire Rush in Lahaina, Maui; and Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu.

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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