Pentagon Activates National Guard, Sends Helicopters to Aid in Deadly Hawaii Fires

August 11, 2023
CH-47 Chinook perform aerial water bucket drops on Maui

The Pentagon announced that it has sent a number of troops and military helicopters to Hawaii to assist in rescue-and-recovery efforts in the wake of devastating wildfires that swept through the island of Maui.

“As of this morning, the National Guard has activated 134 National Guard personnel — 99 from the Army National Guard and 35 from the Air National Guard — to assist with a wide wildfire response,” the Pentagon’s top spokesman, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, told reporters at a briefing Thursday.

Ryder also said that the Army and Navy have both sent several helicopters to the island to help with firefighting, as well as search-and-recovery efforts.

The news comes at the same time as the U.S. Coast Guard announced that the crew of a 45-foot response boat medium crew rescued 14 survivors from the Lahaina Harbor breakwall Tuesday evening. The survivors had jumped into the water to take shelter from fire and smoke in Lahaina, Maui.

In addition to the response boat, the Coast Guard said that the Cutters Kimball and Joseph Gerczak are on the scene to help.

The Associated Press has reported that the wildfires on the popular Hawaiian island — fueled by strong winds from a passing hurricane — have claimed 36 lives. They have also damaged at least 270 structures.

The fires are now the deadliest wildfire incident since the 2018 Camp Fire in California that killed at least 85 people and one of the deadliest in U.S. history.

President Joe Biden declared the wildfires a “major disaster” on Tuesday as well.

Ryder said that the activated National Guardsmen are offering liaison support to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and supporting local law enforcement.

Meanwhile, the CH-47 Chinook helicopters — two from the Hawaii Army National Guard and one from the Army’s 25th Combat Aviation Brigade — are helping with firefighting operations.

Hawaii’s National Guard said its two Chinooks performed 58 total bucket drops in 5 hours, totaling more than 100,000 gallons of water dropped on the fires.

The Combat Aviation Brigade also deployed two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, according to the Pentagon.

In a statement, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the Navy’s Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 37 sent two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters to help the Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter aircrews with search-and-recovery operations as well.

“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,” Ryder said.

— Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

 

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