Mauian off to Arizona to aid victims of fire

Upcountry resident Shannan Pyland is one of 10 Hawaii Red Cross volunteers being deployed to Arizona to help people displaced by a fast-moving wildfire that took the lives of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighters Sunday near Yarnell, Ariz.

“The community took a hard hit due to the loss of the 19 firefighters,” she said as she prepared to leave Maui on Friday evening. She anticipated working with “a lot of distraught people worried about their homes and possessions.”

After taking an evening flight out of Kahului Airport, Pyland said she expected to arrive in Phoenix around noon local time today and then report to a Red Cross headquarters in Prescott, Ariz., about 100 miles north of Phoenix and about 20 miles from Yarnell.

Three shelters have been opened, and “I don’t know if there are plans to open up any more shelters,” she said.

On Friday, officials reported that the fire was 90 percent contained. The blaze has burned more than 100 structures near Prescott. Although the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Department has begun allowing hundreds of Peeples Valley residents to return to their homes, Yarnell residents remained under a mandatory evacuation order.

Pyland said that her assignment is to work as a shelter supervisor, although her assignment and its location can change at any time. Volunteers provide people seeking shelter with a hot meal, a place to sleep and even a listening ear, she said.

“Letting people talk about their problems and their worries is a big help,” she said.

This will be Pyland’s second deployment to the Mainland as a Red Cross volunteer. Last year, she went to Brooklyn, N.Y., and worked at a special needs shelter to help victims of Superstorm Sandy, which struck the East Coast on Oct. 29.

On Maui, she managed a shelter during a police standoff with fugitive Josiah Okudara, who holed up in a Opukea residence on the west side for 50 hours in August 2011 before giving himself up. Pyland has been a Red Cross volunteer since 2009.

A part-time office worker, Pyland said she finds it rewarding to volunteer with the Red Cross.

“I’m happiest when I’m actively serving and helping people,” she said. “I’m just thankful to be available.”

She said she has no worries about her own safety, although she’s concerned about adjusting to Arizona’s triple-digit heat.

“I’m going to try to keep hydrated,” Pyland said. “Other than that, I’m not worried.”

She said she expects to work 12-hour shifts, either 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., for as long as she’s needed.

The other eight Red Cross volunteers from Hawaii include three nurses (two from Oahu and one from the Big Island) and six others (three from Oahu and three from the Big Island), according to Hawaii Red Cross officials. Other Hawaii volunteers were on standby.

Pyland is married and has an adult daughter attending college on Maui.

“Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the tragic events in Yarnell, Arizona,” said Coralie Matayoshi, chief executive officer of the Hawaii State Chapter of the American Red Cross. “We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the 19 brave firefighters who lost their lives protecting their community.

“Our local volunteers will not only share their aloha but will gain valuable experience to help Hawaii prepare for the next major disaster here in the islands,” Matayoshi said.

The Red Cross is responding to several wildfires in the West as well as flooding in several Eastern states with food, shelter, relief supplies and emotional support.

To donate to Red Cross Disaster Relief, go online to or call (800) 733-2767. People also can text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

* Brian Perry can be reached at