The deputy commander heading the Department of Defense’s (DOD) task force assisting local authorities in wildfire response and recovery efforts on Thursday sought to explain the timing of the military’s reaction to the Maui disaster.
A joint task force led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was formed on Aug. 11 to provide military capabilities in response to the wildfires that raged across Maui beginning on Aug. 8, according to a statement. Since President Joe Biden mobilized the military on Aug. 9, nearly 700 personnel from the National Guard, Army, Navy and Marine Corps and civilian contractors moved in to fight fires, distribute fuel and search in the ruins and harbors for remains within hours, Deputy Dual Status Commander Col. David Fielder told reporters Thursday amid questions about the military’s seemingly underwhelming response.
“It may seem slow from the outside, but it’s been going very quickly as needed, as requested by the local and state [authorities] who are ultimately in charge of the entire operation,” Fielder added. (RELATED: Kevin McCarthy Suggests Congress May Move To Investigate Maui Response)
National Guard personnel arrived on site within hours to help put out the fires, while additional standby units ended up dropping water on another location. Fielder said the military has not waited on paperwork to process before acting on a mission.
Search and rescue teams were surveying a wide area as of Aug. 18, according to U.S. Army Pacific. In addition, six forensic anthropologists from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency are working to identify human remains.
Fielder said all of the Task Force’s approved missions remained open on Thursday. “We stood up this joint task force within 72 hours, and we are ready to respond to anything that the mayor had asked for,” Fielder said.
It will take weeks to safely remove structures from the remaining high-rise buildings as the search for victims continues, but hours to respond if municipal authorities request military assistance, he added.
“If anything is needed, they’ll request it and we are more than happy to provide that support. But at the end of the day, we are at the behest of the local responders down there that are integrated completely into the Emergency Operations Center at the county level. If the mayor needs it he’ll request that up through appropriate channels and we’ll get them over here,” Fielder said.
Navy divers entered the water on Thursday to conduct salvage efforts, according to Fielder. “There’s a capacity issue. We can’t send everybody at one time and it’s got to be kind of layered,” Fielder said.
While the Pentagon has made the Hawaii-based 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment “available to provide manpower, engineering and water purification support as needed,” but FEMA has not utilized the regiment, a Marine spokesperson told The Marine Corps Times.
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