The devastating fires in Maui have caused at least 115 deaths, yet only 46 of those have been identified two weeks on from the blaze, police said Thursday. Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for, too.
The grim contrast between those numbers shows the difficulty in locating and identifying victims’ remains amid the scorched landscape so soon after the fire. The process is likely to take weeks to months – lengthy, yes, but one that has been sped up by recent advances in DNA technology honed during the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California.
“DNA has been really extremely helpful for us, with the Rapid DNA,” said Alison Galloway, professor emerita of anthropology at the University of California-Santa Cruz, who helped identify remains during the Camp Fire. “If you don’t have that … then it’s a lot more difficult.”
In general, forensic experts rely on DNA, dental analysis, fingerprints, medical hardware or circumstantial evidence to try to identify remains. But a scorching fire like in Maui makes many of those processes impossible because the remains may not be recognizable or usable for testing.
“We do have extreme concerns that because of the temperature of the fire, the remains of those who have died in some cases may be impossible to recover meaningfully,” Hawaii Gov. Josh Green told CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday. “So there are going to be people that are lost forever.”