Ke-ua-a-ke-pō — Pele upstaged by the spirit of rain and fire


Pele upstaged by the spirit of rain and fire

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

August 14th, 2023

There are very few people in California who don’t feel deep sympathy and compassion for the victims of the Maui fire, which is now the greatest natural disaster the State of Hawai’i has suffered. Most of us have faced (and some suffered) the same fate. At the bottom of this article you will find CBS-provided links to some of the most reputable and effective aid agencies working to help the survivors put their lives back together. If you can see your way clear, please donate.

One element of this disaster that caught my eye was that abandoned cane plantations outside of Lahaina had become overgrown with non-native grasses, many of which were eight-to-ten feet high. According to Ben Adler at Yahoo News, “Before it was drained by plantation owners irrigating their farms, the Lahaina area was a wetland, according to the local environmental advocacy organization Save the Wetlands.”

A fire bomb waiting to happen, in other words. All it took was a few weeks of drought followed by hot winds from a passing hurricane.

It’s something we know all too well here in California. While the public forestlands get criticized (rightly) for being overgrown, the fact is roughly 15% of wildfires start on government lands ( ) but because of the relative remoteness of such regions, only 3% of wildfires that affect settled areas come from the public lands. The rest start on private lands, many of which are just as neglected.

It’s a big issue for small towns in the forested areas, where the state has been thinning and building firebreaks and issuing grants to local fire safe councils to do the work. However the efforts are negated by negligent property owners who bought land for a two-times-a-year vacation, or to lease out, or simply for investment, and are loath to put out the money needed to make the property fire-safe. It’s one thing to remove trees and keep brush and grass cropped to protect your property, but if the neighboring lot has grass three feet tall with a couple of dead pines, you’ve mitigated nothing.

California used to have what was called “proving” laws pertaining to individual mining claims and grazing areas. If you staked a claim, in order to maintain that claim, you had to do $100 every year in improvements. (Call it about $2,500 in today’s money). Perhaps the state needs to consider similar laws for unimproved or unoccupied lots, where fire amelioration standards must be met or the property is forfeit. That would have the dual benefits of helping to protect the mountain areas and discourage rentiers from buying up all the forested properties.

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, a member (DekeDeke) of Guardian’s Comment is Free blog wrote, “With biodiversity already on a precipitous decline globally, with severe under funding of critical research and data collection. We have a very narrow understanding of what is currently happening to ecosystem after ecosystem. Let alone how these environments will suffer the additional stresses from climate change.

Absolutely. There is no denying that we are in trouble. But with scientists being surprised regularly at unknown feedback loops, exponential and synergetic effects, and chain reactions, we have a long way to go to really understand this.

Given we are now in a constant state of flux. It will never be settled.

He is raising valid points that everyone needs to be aware of. No, science can’t predict all the permutations of climate change. The system is incredibly complex, and on the single level of climate patterns alone, chaotic. So yes, we have to expect many surprises that nobody saw coming, and it’s safe to assume that most of them won’t be pleasant.

By way of example, here’s my own semi-informed guess as to how we’ll fare here in the northern California mountains over the next twenty years. I expect that amounts of precipitation will remain about the same and possibly a little bit higher, but that drought and fire problems will sharply increase and the state will evolve from water shortages to full-on water crises.

If that sounds contradictory, it isn’t. Rain or no, California will continue to warm, and it’s reasonable to expect that warming to progress with a greater effect in the mountain regions. (Here at one kilometer altitude, we’ve had six days this summer over 100, with a seventh forecast for today. I lived here twenty years before seeing 100 on the property. Now it’s becoming commonplace.) Warmer means faster rates of evaporation, meaning the soils and plants dry faster. Further, the area of snow coverage is decreasing dramatically as snow levels rise. (It helps to think of mountains as being like cones, and the surface area decreases dramatically with height. For those with maths, it’s something like this: A = L + B = πrs + πr2 = πr(s + r) = πr(r + √(r2 + h2)). Don’t let your young kids see that if you want to keep them in school.)

So less water in snowpack, higher rate of drying, and hotter. Add to that increased mortality of stressed trees, and the recipe for disaster is clear.

Add the bugger factor that DekeDeke mentioned, and brace yourself: expect the unexpected.

More Lahainas will happen. We don’t know when, we don’t know how, but we can take steps to try and avoid the worst.



The American Red Cross

Disaster workers from the American Red Cross are in Maui, “working around the clock to help those affected,” the group says. To donate, visit, call 1-800-RED-CROSS (800-733-2767), or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

You can also go to to make a donation.

The Hawai’i Community Foundation

The Hawai’i Community Foundation is accepting donations through its Maui Strong Fund. The foundation has already raised $1 million to help fire victims, Hawaii News Now reports. To donate, visit the fund’s website. For questions or additional information, please contact Donor Services at or (808) 566-5560.

Maui United Way

Maui United Way, founded in 1945, works to address Maui’s vital needs by focusing on education, income and health. The organization has set up a Maui Fire and Disaster Relief Donations Page. All donations are processed online.

Maui Food Bank

Maui Food Bank provides “safe and nutritious food” to anyone in Maui County who is at risk of going hungry, the organization says. Maui Food Bank also donates food to disaster relief efforts on the island. “With every $1 donated, the Maui Food Bank can provide 4 meals to the hungry living in our island community,” the food bank pledges. To donate, visit the food bank’s website,

Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Blessing

Faith-based NPOs specializing in disaster relief.




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