Editor’s note: This story has been updated as of 9:25am EDT, 14 Aug., with the latest AP toll from the Maui fires and as of 6:45am EDT, 16 Aug., to reflect Biden’s approval of a disaster declaration and federal assistance.
Another hundred troops will likely join the recovery efforts in Maui early next week after swift-burning fires killed dozens of people and burned down entire neighborhoods, a defense official told Military Times Friday.
The troops will be part of a joint force of National Guard and active duty troops announced by Hawaiian officials earlier this week, as the Pacific island state reels from its worst natural disaster since a 1960 tsunami that killed 61 people. At least 96 people have died as of the morning of Aug. 14 from the wildfires that started on Tuesday, fueled by strong winds from a nearby hurricane, according to the AP.
“This Hawaii National Guard joint task force will be able to get active duty assets and National Guard assets to Maui to assist with their recovery efforts,” said retired Maj. Jeff Hickman, a State of Hawaii Department of Defense spokesperson, in an interview. President Joe Biden said he approved a disaster declaration and sending federal assistance.
The National Guard already has dispatched 134 troops — including 99 Army National Guard personnel and 35 Air National Guard personnel. On Aug. 9, Guard troops completed 58 aerial water drops of more than 100,000 gallons of water in a matter of five hours. Coast Guard boat crews saved at least 17 people who’d been driven into the sea by the flames, and located 40 survivors on shore, the Coast Guard said in a release.
“The department will continue to work closely with the state of Hawaii and officials there as we work together to protect lives and battle these terrible wildfires,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said during an Aug. 10 press briefing.
Two Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopters also went to support wildfire response operations and search-and-recovery teams, Ryder said.
In addition, the Army’s 25th Combat Aviation Brigade deployed two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and one CH-47 Chinook to Hawaii to assist with firefighting operations, Ryder said. He added that Navy Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 37 also sent two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters to help the Coast Guard with search-and-recovery operations.
“I think the training that we had was very valuable. It prepared us for this moment,” said Hawaii Air National Guard Master Sgt. Kim, who is attached to Hawaii National Guard CERF-P unit and assisted in the search and recovery efforts, in a Department of Defense video. “We’ve done the test, we’ve done the practice and this is what we train to do.”
Meanwhile, the Defense Health Agency announced that TRICARE beneficiaries on Hawaii and Maui islands may receive emergency prescription refills through Aug. 19, due to wildfires.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media