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How a Colorado company helps identify remains after Maui wildfire

A team with Ande flew into Hawaii with equipment to test DNA samples – they are still trying to collect DNA from surviving family members.

LONGMONT, Colo. — Families waiting for answers about their loved ones after the deadly wildfire in Maui may get them from a company here in Colorado. A team of field scientists with Ande flew into Hawaii the day after with equipment to test DNA samples, and identify human remains.

"When a whole community burns to the ground most of the things you would compare to – the doctors offices are gone, the dental offices are gone. Those records are no longer available," said Stephen Meer, chief information officer at Ande. 

Meer said they primarily extract DNA from bone fragments, and then they compare that data from living family members. Their DNA instrument can find someone's DNA identification in 94 minutes. That DNA is linked to someone's parent and close family members. 

"That comparison takes just a couple of minutes so happen in a mechanical sense and then there's a human review," he said. 

They work alongside the coroner's office to bring closure to loved ones, and help them with next steps. 

"When these identifications are made very quickly, the family can get a death certificate very quickly and that let's them go about their business of wills and insurance settlements and all of those things," he said. 

He said many IDs were made using DNA technology in Maui in the three weeks Ande was there. 

Meer said they are still in need of families of missing people to come forward to provide family reference samples. According to him, some people are expressing concerns of privacy. Ande guarantees DNA will not be entered into any other databases to be used against someone in the future. 

Technology from Ande was also used after the Camp Fire in California in 2018. The company helped identify victims with the most degraded samples possible. DNA testing for victims of fires can sometimes take months or years to run at a traditional crime lab. Testing requires many steps and sometimes the results don't produce an identification, which then requires more samples to be tested. 

According to the coroner of Sacramento County, 87% of families got closure through this technology only three months after the Camp Fire. 


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