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Maui on Fire: An Apocalypse in Paradise by Richard Young August 21,2023
What thoughts came to your mind when you saw the shocking images of Maui on fire? And as you watched the videos of people scrambling into dangerous, turbulent ocean waters to get away from the deadly flames racing across the island?
And what did you think about the scenes from the aftermath? The burned-out homes, the scorched cars abandoned in the middle of the street—all seemed straight out of a Hollywood disaster film. At first, you may have mistakenly thought it was the result of yet another bombing in Ukraine. Others may have even thought of the Bible’s Apocalypse.
As of this writing, 114 lives have been confirmed lost, making it the deadliest wildfire in America in a century. More than a thousand people remain missing. The magnitude of this crisis is unprecedented—but how did it happen, and what should it teach us about the world in which we live?
Volatile Conditions Spark a Firestorm
Wildfires have been in the news a lot lately, with those huge Canadian forest fires still burning, and more recently, fires in Washington State have caused even more destruction and loss of life.
However, most people don’t think of wildfires when they think of Hawaii. Instead, they think of lush, tropical jungles, humidity, and rain. In fact, the Big Island gets some of the heaviest rainfall in the United States; one town on Kauai “gets the prize for being the 2nd wettest spot on earth, receiving more than 460 inches of rain per year.”
Thus, many were understandably stunned to learn about these wildfires, including the islands’ own emergency officials. According to CNN, “When Hawaii officials released a report last year ranking the natural disasters most likely to threaten state residents, tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic hazards featured prominently. Near the bottom of a color-coded chart, the state emergency management agency described the risk of wildfires to human life with a single word: ‘low.’”
So, what happened? One factor seems to loom largest: wind. Lots of it.
Generated by Hurricane Dora, which formed over Mexico and traveled thousands of miles across the Pacific, though never coming closer than 500 miles to the Hawaiian Islands, winds gusted to more than 80 miles per hour across Maui. Combining those winds with hot temperatures, a dry summer, and massive amounts of nonnative, highly combustible grasses created an extremely volatile situation.
According to one report, “video and data reviewed by The Washington Post showed that power lines probably caused the first reported blaze on Maui, on Aug. 7, adding to evidence that utility equipment may have sparked fires during the high winds.” The high winds not only helped spark the fire, but they also helped spread it quickly.
The Damage Assessment
Along with the tragic loss of life, structural losses are also unprecedented. Early estimates of property damage hover around $5 billion.
Lahaina, a popular tourist spot featuring restaurants, cafes, and art stores, has been utterly devastated. With over a thousand-year history, Lahaina served as the Kingdom of Hawaii’s capital from 1820 to 1845. “Lahaina’s Front Street has been ranked one of the ‘Top Ten Greatest Streets’ by the American Planning Association. Visitors and locals alike enjoyed quiet relaxing strolls, as well as breaks and events under the massive Banyan tree located in the town square.”
Planted in 1873 in honor of the town’s first Protestant mission, the Banyan tree stands more than 60 feet tall and, with its outstretched trunk and limbs, spans an entire block. Fears were that the fire destroyed the beloved tree, as it did most everything else around it, but it’s still standing. Some say it’s a miracle. However, it’s too early to say whether it survives long in its new environment.
The Bigger Picture
With so much wealth, industry, and power, how could this happen in the United States?
The Bible is clear—none of these things can fully protect us from the winds of strife in a fallen world, a planet immersed in a cosmic battle between good and evil. Revelation 12:12 warns us that such disasters are often the direct result of Jesus Christ’s enemy: “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”
In this light, the Maui fire serves as a symbol and warning for the good, the bad, the Christian, and the atheist. The man Job was righteous. God said that he “was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1), but calamity struck him and his family when Satan attacked him. Overnight, it was hellfire on Earth for Job.
How many people in Maui woke up that morning and expected, by the next one, to be homeless? Or mourning the dead? Who among us hasn’t learned that life here on Earth is lived on a precipice—and you never know when you will go over the edge?
But we have good news: Jesus. Because of what He did at the first coming, we can have hope that, regardless of what happens to us here and now, He will one day return to give His people “a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Notice, where “righteousness dwells”—not where wildfires, wars, sickness, and death dwell.
We are also promised that “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Yes—we can live with hope!
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