VANDALIA, Ohio (WJW) – The wildfires in Maui have burned through nearly 3,000 acres, destroying what was once a lush paradise and killing more than 100 people.
That number is only expected to grow.
With an estimated 1,300 people still unaccounted for, FEMA is asking for more help to cover the massive search area.
Ohio Task Force 1 (OH-TF1) is sending three human remains detection canines and their handlers to assist.
Task Force One Leader Jim O’Connor said the team is expected to be active for 14 days.
“They’ll be assisting with the search efforts in that burned area where sometimes it’s hard to locate, hard for us to see with the eyes, but the K-9s with their sense of smell are able to detect things that we’re unable to locate,” O’Connor said.
Heather Ferguson and her dog Melvin are serving out of Marengo, Ohio. Nick Fathergil and his dog Sunny are serving from the Beavercreek Fire Department. Kim Veldheer and her dog Major are serving from Rives Junction, Michigan.
There are many challenges facing the search teams, but perhaps the most concerning for both canine and handler is dealing with the intense heat over shifts that are expected to run from sunrise to sunset.
“The heat in Hawaii, the heat from the fire that’s still there where the ground is still warm – they’re dealing with some very hot temperatures just on the blacktop and stuff – so we have to have extra boots for the K-9s to be able to protect their feet, so that they can do the tasks we’re asking of them,” O’Connor said.
OH-TF1 will be on the ground and ready to serve by Thursday morning. O’Connor hopes his team will be able to speed up the process to find the unaccounted in one of the deadliest wildfires in US history.
“What we’re really doing is providing support for those families that are missing those loved ones,” he said. “That question is one of the hardest things for the family to deal with. While there may be some unpleasant things that we deal with, the goal is, and what keeps us doing it is the people we’re helping out. That we can bring that closure, bring that reassurance to those families.”