On November 23rd a fire started in the Chimney Tops area of the Smoky Mountians and spread throughout the area into Sevier county and Gatlinburg. As a result 14 people have died. 145 were injured. 1753 homes and buildings were destroyed. And over 17,000 acres of forest were burned.
On Wednesday, authorities announced the arrest of two juveniles that will be charged with aggravated arson, but more charges could come later. According to various news sources they are currently being held at the Sevier County Juvenile Detention Center.“Everything is on the table,” says James Dunn, district attorney general of the 4th District.
During the coming days, a judge will determine whether to grant the two bond and – if so – how much.
At this point little is known about the two suspects, other than they are Tennessee residents, but not from Sevier county. They also could be tried as adults.
The question is why?
Why would two kids set fire to these majestic mountains?
The area has been incredibly dry. Restrictions on burning anything had been announced. It was very dangerous to light any kind of fire.
Was it intentional? Was it an accident? Was it malicious? Did they fail to put out a camp fire? Were they smoking?
Regardless of the answers to these questions, the consequences remain the same. Lives have been lost. People injured. Homes destroyed. Businesses ruined. An economy hurt. And the beautiful, scenic mountains left scorched and scarred for years to come. Indeed this tragedy is heartbreaking on so many levels.
As I heard the news of the arrest, I couldn’t help but think of several Bible passages that imply the analogy of fire to illustrate the devastating effects of sin.
(1) Ill chosen words can ignite a great fire.
The Bible says “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!” (Jas. 3:5-6).
Words spoken in haste, hatred, or anger spark a problem among friends, family and brethren that is difficult to extinguish. Gossip can set ablaze rumors that can arouse suspicion, wreck friendships, and ruin reputations.
(2) In a similar way a contentious person can emotionally torch many lives.
Proverbs 26:20-21 expresses it this way.
Where there is no wood, the fire goes out;
And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.
As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire,
So is a contentious man to kindle strife.
The attitudes and actions of a trouble maker can inflame an entire family, church or community. The pastors and preachers in some churches are always busy putting out the fires started by a disruptive member. There’s no way to calculate the damage inflicted by contention, strife and acrimony.
(3) When we are set on fire with lust it leads to spiritual devastation.
In warning against adultery the wise man asks “Can a man take fire to his bosom, And his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, And his feet not be seared?” (Prov. 6:27-28).
He then answers the question with this application. “So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; Whoever touches her shall not be innocent.”
If not contained, our sexual passions can get out of control like a raging forest fire. Whether intentional or not, the results can wound emotions, wreck homes, and ruin reputations that have taken years to build.
There’s a familiar old adage that says, “If you play with fire, you’re gonna get burned.” However, it’s not just you. It’s lots of other people who you will hurt. Sadly, we’ve seen it happen in the Smoky Mountains.
The same principle applies spiritually. Don’t play with fire.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman