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The US Department of Defense (DoD) has continued to mobilise assets to help fight the wild fires that have swept through the Hawaiian island of Maui, for which US President Joe Biden approved a national disaster declaration on 10 August 2023.

As of that date the US National Guard had activated 134 troops — including 99 Army National Guard personnel and 35 Air National Guard personnel — to assist in the ongoing wildfire response efforts in Hawaii. National Guard personnel have been assigned to provide liaison support to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and support to local law enforcement.

Two Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopters have also been assigned to support wildfire response and search and recovery efforts. On 9 August Guardsmen completed 58 aerial water drops of more than 100,000 gallons of water in a matter of five hours, a US DoD press release noted.

An Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook performing aerial water bucket drops on the Hawaiian island of Maui to fight the wildfires there on 9 August 2023. (Image: US National Guard)

In addition to activating National Guard personnel, the US DoD has also mobilised resources from various active-duty components to assist in response efforts:

  • The US Army’s 25th Combat Aviation Brigade has deployed two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and one CH-47 Chinook to assist in firefighting operations;
  • US Coast Guardsmen from Station Maui have been actively assisting in search and rescue efforts;
  • A US Navy maritime strike squadron has deployed two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters to the region to assist with the US Coast Guard’s search and recovery efforts.

Briefing journalists on 10 August, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder also noted that “a US Coast Guard 45-ft response boat – medium crew from US Coast Guard Station Maui and a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Barbers Point rescued 14 survivors who had taken shelter from fire and smoke in the ocean. The US Coast Guard Cutters Kimball and Joseph Gerczak remain in the area to provide additional support capacity.”

The wildfires on Maui, which began on 8 August, have been very fast moving as they have been fuelled by strong winds from a nearby hurricane. By 11 August the death toll on Maui stood at 55 and was expected to rise further, with around 30,000 people having been evacuated from the island. The fires are likely to be the largest natural disaster the state of Hawaii has ever seen.

Peter Felstead