WASHINGTON — Defense Department personnel remain ready to support Maui residents for the foreseeable future as local officials plot a course for recovery from the Lahaina wildfire, the Hawaii National Guard's incident commander said Thursday.
Army Major Gen. Kenneth Hara, adjutant general for the state of Hawaii and Lahaina wildfire incident commander, said nearly 700 DOD personnel are actively supporting response and recovery efforts alongside interagency partners.
He said his team remains engaged with state and local officials to anticipate the needs of the community as recovery operations continue.
"On day 1 when I talked to the team, I told them our center of gravity is responsiveness," he said. "And to be able to be able to do that, I told them we need to anticipate needs, and then once we know what those needs are, to organize ourselves and resources ourselves to meet those needs once the ask comes."
"I also told them we need to move at the pace of unprecedented crisis," Hara said.
DOD personnel, organized under Joint Task Force 5-0, are conducting nine approved missions. The response, which is led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, includes:
- Providing interisland air/sea transportation.
- Providing DOD personnel to coordinate with interagency partners.
- Using Schofield Barracks and support facilities,
- Standing-by for aerial fire suppression,
- Providing strategic transportation,
- Using U.S. Army Reserve Center — Wailuku as a FEMA incident support base federal staging area.
- Providing DOD mortuary affairs support.
- Supporting fuel distribution.
- Supporting potable water distribution.
Hara said his team remains engaged with state and local leaders as they blueprint long-term support for the residents.
The Environmental Protection Agency is currently leading efforts to clear hazardous waste from residential areas to allow for residents to return to their homes and businesses to recover valuables, Hara said.
That next phase will be planned and coordinated by the county of Maui, he said, and DOD personnel remain ready to support.
Complex debris clearing operations will begin after residents have had a chance to retrieve valuables. Hara said the Army Corps of Engineers has been contracted to complete the complex debris clearing.
"Currently, the state is also supporting disaster recovery and family assistance centers," Hara said. "They're looking at long term transitional housing for the survivors while we're still doing water distribution missions."
Officials are also developing long-term disaster mitigation measures to prevent future fires and planning for the eventual rebuilding the town of Lahaina.
Hara noted the tremendous amount of support and resources provided by the federal government in support of the local community.
Joint Task Force 5-0, led by Hawaii Army National Guard commander Army Brig. Gen. Stephen F. Logan, was activated on Aug. 11 soon after the fire broke out. The task force reached full operational capacity five days later.
Hara said the task force has had the full support U.S. Indo-Pacific Command commander Navy Adm. John C. Aquilino and U.S. Army Pacific commander Gen. Charles A. Flynn.
"Both of them called me on day 1 and said, ‘Whatever you need, whatever you request, the entire Department of Defense — and especially all the capabilities and resources within U.S. Indo-Pacom — will be there to support the state of Hawaii and the county of Maui," he said.
Separately, National Guard troops from three states have been activated in response to Hurricane Idalia, which brought heavy winds and flooding across Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina.
The Category 3 storm brought 125 mph winds as it reached the Big Bend area of Florida's panhandle on Wednesday before being downgraded to a tropical storm as it returned to the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Carolina on Thursday.
The Florida National Guard has been fully activated and is operating as a joint task force under the direction of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said.
Joint Task Force Florida has positioned 5,344 National Guard personnel, 2,400 high water vehicles, 14 Army National Guard helicopters, 23 watercraft and heavy construction teams throughout the state.
The troops are providing "responsive sustained support to reduce suffering and assist in the restoration of critical services," Ryder said.
North Carolina has prepositioned 128 National Guardsmen and 51 high water vehicles and three armories throughout the state, and South Carolina has nearly 100 National Guard personnel on duty supporting recovery operations.
Additionally, U.S. Northern Command is providing FEMA with a federal staging area at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama and has deployed a coordination element alongside FEMA in Tallahassee, Florida.
"The DOD will remain in close coordination with FEMA, state officials and other supporting agencies as the cleanup and recovery operations continued to develop," Ryder said.]