Local rescue group working to save lives following Hawaii wildfires

(WGGB/WSHM) -The island of Maui, in Hawaii, is still a disaster zone as a result of the wildfires that blazed through most of Lahaina last week. Residents are struggling to navigate a town they’ve known their whole lives and tourists looking at a popular destination covered in ash.

“The desperation that people have is extreme, you know…Literally, here in Maui, you had people that were running away from fire, who didn’t know how to swim, who jumped into the water as an absolutely last resort, absolute last resort,” said Bryan Stern.

Stern is the founder and CEO of a non-profit organization led by veterans called Project Dynamo. He, along with some of his teammates from the organization, spends his time in areas hit hard by war or natural disasters and, right now, Lahaina. They’re using helicopters and military expertise on land to get people and animals away from danger, which he said, reminded him of a war zone.

“If you look at Lahaina right now, I’ve been on parts of Ukraine that look just like it…where it’s been completely destroyed and thousands of people are either hurt, or missing, or worse, dead. People who have had to flee their homes and lose everything, so the psychological and emotional parts of these things are very, very similar,” Stern noted.

Stern arrived in Maui on Friday and hit the ground running. They’ve partnered with local organizations to offer help in any way they can. Their team has been busy transporting breast milk to mothers and babies currently living in shelters, collecting everyday supplies and hygiene items, and even rescuing two giant tortoises. With the death toll rising to 96 people on Monday, Stern told us he’s worried that number could grow drastically in the coming days.

“When these things happen, we are on a clock. People will not stay alive under the rubble in perpetuity. They just won’t,” Stern said. “This is going to look just like 9/11 where people are dead and their bodies are incinerated and it’ll be coming soon. It’ll be coming soon where the government will start asking relatives for toothbrushes for DNA analysis, then to give DNA samples of children and brothers and sisters to identify people. That’ll be…that’s coming because the fire was so bad it incinerated everything,” Stern noted.

Just like stern, you too, can help make a difference. Western Mass News and Gray Television are partnering with the Salvation Army in a special effort, Hope for Hawaii. The organization is looking for financial donations right now and you click here for more information.