At least 115 people have died as a result of the devastating fires on Maui, but only 46 of them have been officially recognized two weeks after the incident, according to authorities. Additionally, hundreds of individuals are still missing.
The ominous disparity between those figures demonstrates how challenging it is to find and identify victims’ bodies within the burned-out environment so soon after the fire. The procedure, which is expected to take weeks to months, has recently been sped up because of DNA technology advancements refined during the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California.
“DNA has been really extremely helpful for us with the Rapid DNA,” said Alison Galloway, emerita professor of anthropology at the University of California-Santa Cruz, who assisted in identifying remains after the Camp Fire. It’s harder if you don’t have that, according to the statement.
In order to identify remains, forensic investigators typically use DNA, dental analysis, fingerprints, medical devices, or circumstantial evidence. However, many of those procedures become impractical in a searing fire like the one in Maui since the remnants would not be recognizable or useful for testing.
Hawaii Governor Josh Green said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, “We do have extreme concerns that the remains of those who have died in some cases may be impossible to recover meaningfully due to the temperature of the fire.” As a result, some people will be lost forever.
Fingerprints in the Dark
Only three of the 99 bodies they had discovered at the time, according to Maui Police Chief John Pelletier last Monday, could be identified by fingerprints.
In order to identify the remains, “we’re still working hard to make sure that we can,” he said. “That’s why that DNA is so important, because we got fingerprints from three,” he said.
In fact, the creation of Rapid DNA by the business ANDE Corp., which is being utilized in Maui, has made DNA extremely significant. A task that used to take weeks or even months may now be completed in 94 minutes by using a tiny machine out in the field. According to research, this accuracy and speed have “dramatically accelerated” victim identification.
According to Stephen Meer, managing director of critical operations at ANDE and chief information officer, the DNA technology itself is not new. We just improved its size, toughness, and speed.
The Camp Fire in November 2018, in which flames tore through the village of Paradise, California, burning the town to ashes and leaving more than 1,000 people missing, is one of the closest similarities to the Maui fire.
Investigators labored for weeks and months to identify the missing, find their bodies, and determine their locations.