Wipes, toilet paper, blankets, body wash and more on the tarmac at Van Nuys Airport, ready to be flown out for victims of the Maui wildfires.

The Van Nuys Airport community has stepped forward to help victims of the Maui wildfires. The aircraft, fuel, personnel, and relief supplies donated by the tenants and employees of Van Nuys airport were flown directly to Maui on Friday, Aug. 11, and on Tuesday, Aug. 15, and was all made possible through their personal effort.

On Tuesday, Clay Lacy Aviation deployed an Embraer Legacy 600 aircraft – a corporate aircraft that can seat 30-35 people and the flight crew. For this trip, the plane was empty of passengers and instead was filled with 1,200 pounds of boxes and goods that included blankets, food, diapers, 1,000 to-go meals and personal hygiene supplies.

Last Friday, Planet 9 – a charter operator at Van Nuys Airport with FBO Castle and Cooke Aviation, Aeroplex/Aerolease dispatched one of its large cabin Bombardier Global Express jets to the devastated island packed with bottled water and relief supplies. Avfuel donated nearly 3,000 gallons of fuel for the flight.

“So many of the tenants contributed,” said Paul Herrera, Van Nuys Airport manager. “They came together to see what could be done. We have 200 tenants here at the Van Nuys Airport that were alerted of this effort and contributed.

A wasteland of burned out homes and obliterated communities is left on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii, following a stubborn blaze. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

These are just folks that have [personally] contributed their aircraft, the fuel, the supplies that are on board to be part of this relief effort and provide, albeit small, amount of aid relative to the devastation that has occurred on the island.”

However “small” the donation may seem, those on the ground in Maui point out that direct assistance, like the help from those at Van Nuys Airport, is needed urgently now and can’t wait months from now. Small donations, it’s pointed out, together become large donations.

The Maui fires have been described as the deadliest natural disaster in the state’s history with a death toll of at least 106 with hundreds of people still unaccounted for. More than 2,000 structures in and surrounding the historic town of Lahaina have burned, leaving thousands homeless without food, water or power.

“It’s heart-wrenching to see the families that have lost everything, family members that have perished and were unable to make it out of the fires,” said Hererra. “Obviously, they’ve lost their homes, their cars, their personal belongings. So, anything we can do to help lend a hand and have that level of connection as humanity, it’s really great to see how folks have come together to contribute with what they can,” he said.

Responding to natural disasters is very familiar to those who work at the Van Nuys Airport, who have responded in years past. 

“Obviously everyone remembers the 1994 Northridge earthquake where the American Red Cross had a ground zero here at the airport for logistics and coordination of resources. 

“We work with our first responders, critical responders. We have incident command system training and emergency management preparedness to help us understand when there’s a catastrophe, how we get together, we identify resources, and we provide a response for continuity of operations to the airport,” said Herrera. “But in this case, this is a humanitarian effort and we’re so grateful for the tenants that have contributed and donated their time, effort, energy, money, fuel and resources to help lend aid to those in need.”

Herrera has been with LAWA (Los Angeles World Airports) for 23 years and has worked with multiple airports including Burbank and Santa Monica airports. He became the airport manager at Van Nuys Airport this year.

“We have a strong connection with our public safety first responders. Whether it be LAPD, Department of Water and Power, Los Angeles County Fire Department, we have the super scoopers that have Van Nuys Airport as their place to assist the airplane during wildfire season,” said Herrera. 

“Van Nuys Airport [is known for] being a sort of hub for logistics during wildfire season. And when we heard about the fires in Maui, it really touched home because this is what we do year in and year out – we have a footprint.

“We have empathy knowing that when folks have had their entire savings and homes and family members lost in this devastating fire, it’s a helping hand across the water here on the mainland that wishes to support them in their recovery efforts,” he said.

“There’s a long road ahead and the American Red Cross has a great website where folks can contribute. Obviously, what’s needed is the infrastructure to be built up again – this is just one small effort, but it has a poignant effort in our recovery as a nation,” said Hererra.

Arrangements were made for the tenants from Van Nuys Airport to work in conjunction with Merriman’s Hawaii Restaurants and Community Relief Maui to distribute the crucial supplies to the residents of Maui.