An American Red Cross volunteer from Jacksonville left Friday morning for Maui to assist in the wildfire relief efforts.
The fires caught many by surprise and have already claimed dozens of lives — a toll expected to climb — and burned more than 1,000 buildings.
Tyler Smith has been volunteering at the American Red Cross in Riverside for six years and has gone on more than two dozen deployments, but this is his first wildfire.
He has seen the devastation in Maui over the last few days that could shock even the most seasoned first responder.
Smith said he doesn’t quite know what to expect.
“I’ve learned to keep an open mind. Every disaster is different. There are a lot of similarities, but they’re all unique,” Smith said. “They all have their own challenges and opportunities. So, just try to keep an open mind and be ready for what comes up.”
When he arrives, Smith’s mission will center around IT, communications, and connection, providing a digital bridge to resources and rescue teams on the ground.
“It’s important for our teams to be able to know what’s going on, for our teams in the field to be able to report back to our headquarters and to be able to communicate within our organization,” Smith said. “And to know where we need to put supplies and people and where we shouldn’t be going is equally important.”
Though he knows the coming weeks will be a challenge, Smith said he’s grateful he’s able to help.
“It’s definitely a good feeling. I wish disasters didn’t happen and that we weren’t needed, but the unfortunate reality is disasters do happen,” Smith said. “I’m very grateful that I can go help when people are in need.”
Smith said he’s going to be in Hawaii for at least three weeks, possibly as long as eight weeks.
He also emphasized the importance of volunteering with the Red Cross. To learn more, go to redcross.org.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.