The Defense Department will continue to work closely with state and local officials to protect lives and battle the destructive wildfires that have swept through the Hawaiian island of Maui, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said today.
The National Guard has activated 134 troops — including 99 Army National Guard personnel and 35 Air National Guard personnel — to assist in the in the ongoing local and federal wildfire response efforts.
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 Wednesday, Guardsmen completed 58 aerial water drops of more than 100,000 gallons of water in a matter of five hours.
The fast-moving blaze, which has been fueled by strong winds from a nearby hurricane, began on Tuesday, leaving more than 30 people dead and destroying hundreds of structures.
Some residents were forced to seek shelter by diving into the ocean after being caught off guard by the fire's rapid spread.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Maui at this time, and 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 during a press briefing at the Pentagon.
In addition to activating National Guard personnel, DOD has also mobilized resources from throughout active-duty components to assist in response efforts.
The Army's 25th Combat Aviation Brigade has deployed two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and on CH-47 Chinook to assist in firefighting operations.
U.S. Coast Guardsmen from Station Maui have also been actively assisting in search and rescue efforts.
The crew aboard a Coast Guard 45-foot response boat based in Maui has assisted state and local partners in rescuing 14 individuals from the waters off the island's coast as of early Thursday.
A Navy maritime strike squadron has deployed two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters to the region to assist with the U.S. Coast Guard's search and recovery efforts.
President Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration on Thursday in response to the wildfires and ordered federal aid to support state and local recovery efforts.
"Jill and I send our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones in the wildfires in Maui, and our prayers are with those who have seen their homes, businesses and communities destroyed," Biden said in a statement on Wednesday. "We are grateful to the brave firefighters and first responders who continue to run toward danger, putting themselves in harm's way to save lives."