Washington emergency team deployed to aid search and rescue for Maui fires


Rozz Lokelina Lowry has spent the past few days watching her memories of Lahaina burn.

The Pioneer Inn, where her business had a second-floor office, is gone. Her friend's jewelry store, across from the banyan tree. Kimo's Maui, home of the famous hula pie.

"It's all history," said Lowry, who grew up in Hawaii and now lives in Bremerton. "It just breaks my heart."

On Thursday, she and others in the Seattle area's Hawaiian community awaited updates from family and friends as wildfires swept through the island of Maui and the death toll rose. Lowry worried for the loved ones she hadn't heard from, about 20 in total around Lahaina.

Meanwhile, Washington state officials and airlines sent resources to the island, and tourists fled or canceled plans as the state highly discouraged tourism.

Lowry grew up in Oahu and lived in Maui for two decades, working in the tourism industry in Lahaina. She was awake at 3 a.m. Wednesday, with a jittery feeling she couldn't understand as her homeland was on fire.

She hasn't been able to shake the feeling since. She's waiting to hear from people in Lahaina and upcountry Maui, and slowly they've been checking in. She knows they're more concerned with making sure their family is safe than calling anyone else back, so for now she's "hoping and praying they are all OK."

Over her two decades in Lahaina, she noticed it would get progressively hotter each year. Brush wasn't controlled, and with the heat and humidity, she hoped it wasn't a matter of time before a big fire.

"It's unfathomable to think it could happen," she said. "When it does, you don't know how to take it."

On Thursday, 45 people from King and Pierce counties' fire departments, public works agencies and emergency management teams flew to Hawaii to help with search and rescue missions. The team also will assist with emergency medical care and damage assessment, among other missions, for up to two weeks, according to Pierce County Emergency Management. A five-person K-9 human remains detection groups is accompanying the team.

The crews are members of Washington Task Force 1, a state urban search and rescue team under the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The team was last deployed in September 2020 to assist with search and rescue efforts during wildfires in Oregon.

Hawaii officials continue to strongly discourage nonessential travel to Maui. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 14,000 people had been moved off the island to return home or continue their travels in other parts of Hawaii, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. The three airlines that fly direct to Maui's Kahului Airport from Seattle have flexible change and cancellation policies in place.

Hawaiian Airlines has added extra flights from Maui; seats are available through Monday for $19.

Alaska Airlines said it continues to operate its eight daily departures from the island, and it flew an additional plane to Maui to bring passengers back to Seattle on Friday morning. The flight was filled with water, nonperishables, pillows and other relief supplies, the airline said.

Alaska is also operating rescue flights between Maui and Honolulu, an unusual move as the airline doesn't typically operate flights between the Hawaiian islands.

Lowry doesn't know what will happen in Lahaina, but she knows it's a strong area that will rebuild. She pointed to the historic banyan tree, which was damaged but remains standing.

"The branches are burnt, but the roots are strong," she said. "That's the same way Lahaina will be."