More than 30 dead from Hawaii wildfires, Southern Baptists preparing response

By Timothy Cockes

An aerial view shows destruction caused by a wildfire in Lahaina, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, on August 10, 2023. At least 36 people have died after a fast-moving wildfire turned Lahaina to ashes, officials said August 9, as visitors asked to leave the island of Maui found themselves stranded at the airport. The fires began burning early August 8, scorching thousands of acres and putting homes, businesses and 35,000 lives at risk on Maui, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said in a statement. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images)

MAUI COUNTY, Hawaii (BP) – More than 30 people have been declared dead as the result of wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui which took place Wednesday, August 9.

According to media reports, the wildfires killed at least 36 people and injured dozens more. Thousands of people have evacuated the island, and the National Guard has been enlisted to provide support to local authorities. The U.S. Coast Guard has reportedly rescued many who jumped into the waters to avoid the fires.

Media reports said the exact cause of the fire’s start is unknown, but a mix of dry conditions on the island and winds from Hurricane Dora, moving across the South Pacific, created optimum conditions for its spread.

The death count makes the disaster the largest wildfire in the U.S. since California’s Camp Fire of 2018.

John Endriss, interim executive director/treasurer for the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press, “It’s been a pretty big disaster for our state. It’s been pretty devastating to read the stories about what everybody has faced.

“It’s been heavy to hear of our pastors in those areas that have lost churches and houses. Pray for our disaster relief efforts when they are called upon.”

Endriss said to his knowledge, no pastors in the state convention were killed, but many have lost homes and churches. Whole cities have been nearly wiped out, he said.

Craig Webb, assistant executive director for the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention, explained some fires are still active, so the assessment period for those affected is still ongoing.

Webb said the majority of the damage has affected west Maui, particularly in the island’s historic Lahaina Town.

“Lahaina is an important part of our culture and history in Hawaii, and it’s a treasured place by many in Hawaii and many who come to visit,” Webb said.

“People are just devastated that that whole town has been destroyed. It’s worse than we could have imagined. Please pray for this devastated community.”

Webb said several churches in the Hawaii convention are already meeting some basic food, water and shelter needs.

He expressed his gratitude for the concern already shown for his region.

“We are profoundly grateful for the outpouring of support from around Hawaii and around the world as we face this very difficult situation,” Webb said.

“We are grateful for our Hawaii Pacific Baptist Disaster Relief leadership and volunteers as well as the partnership with our Maui County Baptist Association, our Maui churches and all of the churches of the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention.

“We are also grateful for the support that has been offered and is being coordinated through Send Relief and other Southern Baptist entities.”

Coy Webb, crisis response director for Send Relief, said he has been in contact with Hawaii’s state disaster relief directors to coordinate how they can partner together for relief.

“Send Relief always stands ready to stand with our state partners and local churches and provide support by offering resources to aid their ability to respond effectively, Webb said. “We will be ready to respond as soon as we know what the needs are.”

Published August 11, 2023

Timothy Cockes

Timothy Cockes is a Baptist Press staff writer.