Fact Check

A Book Describing the Maui Fires Was Published Before They Started?

Some social media users claimed it proved their conspiracy theories.

Published Aug 16, 2023

 (Dr Miles Stones, Amazon)
Image Via Dr Miles Stones, Amazon
Claim:
A book describing the Maui, Hawaii, fires of August 2023 was published before they started.
Context

A book "Fire and Fury: The Story of the 2023 Maui Fire and its Implications for Climate Change" was published on Aug. 10, 2023, two days after the wildfires broke out in Maui, Hawaii.

On Aug. 8, 2023, massive fires swept across the island of Maui, Hawaii, inspiring various conspiracy theories around the topic. Numerous social media users claimed that a book describing the fires was published before they happened, allegedly proving that the disaster was planned.

Maui fire hits 8/8, on 8/10 Amazon makes available about called Fire and Fury: The Story of the Maui Fire and its Implications for Climate Change. The book description is the "chronicle of the events of August 8-11, 2023" ?
by u/Electronic-Limit649 in conspiracy

While a book titled "Fire and Fury: The Story of the 2023 Maui Fire and its Implications for Climate Change" indeed exists, it was not a predictive text. It was published on Aug. 10, 2023, two days after the wildfires broke out on the island. Additionally, the book did not contain any information that was not widely reported as of Aug. 10. For that reason, we rated this claim "False."

The rumor about the book supposedly predicting the disaster was possibly prompted by the fact that its description on Amazon said the text covered "the events of August 8-11, 2023," while the publication date was Aug. 10. It was unknown why the description included time after the book's publication date.

We purchased the online version of the book on Amazon and assessed whether it included information that could only be obtained during or after the fires, and that was the case. Furthermore, the text had several characteristics often indicative of content produced by artificial intelligence (AI) software, a finding on which we elaborate below.

Was the Book Written By AI?

As of this writing, the book was listed as #1 in Natural Disasters, Ecology, and Environmental Ecology best-seller categories on Amazon. The alleged author of the book, according to Amazon, was "Dr. Miles Stones." We found a profile with the same name on Goodreads, a social-cataloging website. That profile mostly contained comments with zero, or just a few, reviews. Only a few news websites mentioned Stones' name with regards to the viral book about Maui wildfires. No reputable sources provided any information about Stones.

In other words, we were unable to confirm if "Dr. Miles Stones" was the name and title of an actual person.

Some social media users suggested AI helped produce the text. "Very sus. Who is Dr. Miles Stones?" someone tweeted, referring to the alleged author. "How did he author and publish a book before the Maui fires were even contained? How has he authored almost a dozen books this year?"

The book's summary on Amazon read (emphasis ours):

Fire and Fury: The Story of the Maui Fire and its Implications for Climate Change is a gripping and eye-opening account of one of the most devastating wildfires in Hawaii's history, and how it reveals the urgent need to address the global climate crisis. The book chronicles the events of August 8-11, 2023, when a massive fire swept across the island of Maui, fueled by drought, heat, and hurricane winds. The book describes the harrowing experiences of the people who lived through the fire, as well as the heroic efforts of the firefighters and rescuers who battled the flames. The book also examines the causes and consequences of the fire, both locally and globally, and how it exposes the vulnerability of our society and our planet to the impacts of climate change. The book draws on scientific research, eyewitness accounts, official reports, and media coverage to provide a comprehensive and compelling narrative of the Maui fire and its implications for climate change. The book also offers practical solutions and recommendations on how we can prevent and prepare for future wildfires, and how we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate. Fire and Fury: The Story of the Maui Fire and its Implications for Climate Change is a must-read for anyone who cares about the environment, the future of humanity, and the fate of our beautiful planet.

What immediately drew our attention was that, out of seven sentences in that summary, five started with the words "the book," while two others started with the book's title. Altogether, it did not read like polished text. The book was a quick read. It was 44 pages when displayed on a smartphone, with numerous stock pictures and half-blank pages:

(Fire and Fury: The Story of the 2023 Maui Fire and its Implications for Climate Change, Dr. Miles Stones)

We were unable to run the text through AI-detection services because of copy-and-pasting restrictions on Amazon's digital content. However, we identified the below-transcribed passage as a possible example of clunky, AI-produced language:

On the eighth day of August in the year 2023, an unfortunate incident occurred in the upcountry region of Maui, Hawaii, wherein a fire was ignited. This fire swiftly escalated into an extensive wildfire, rapidly engulfing the entire island. Its ferocious advancement was augmented by a combination of unfavorable conditions, including drought, scorching temperatures, and ferocious hurricane winds.
The flames eventually reached Lahaina, which possesses immense historical significance for Maui. Tragically, a significant portion of its cultural and economic heritage was obliterated by the fire's relentless fury. Moreover, the fire posed a grave menace to other parts of Maui, comprising residential zones, agricultural lands, and natural ecosystems. Regrettably, the fire took the lives of six individuals, decimated over 270 structures, and scorched more than 50,000 acres of land. 

Here's another one:

In addition to its dreadful impact on the economic and environmental fronts, the fire also inflicted an indelible blow upon the rich history and cultural heritage of Lahaina and Maui as a whole. Traces of Lahaina's illustrious past, including historic edifices, invaluable artifacts, and essential records, were cruelly erased by the relentless flames. Additionally, this tragedy caused considerable damage or utter destruction to cherished symbols emblematic of Lahaina's identity, including its esteemed banyan tree, venerable lighthouse, and hallowed places of worship. The immediate and lasting consequences of the fire extend beyond the tangible realm, profoundly affecting the social fabric, communal spirit, and overall sense of place that exist within the present and future of Lahaina. The unforgettable Maui fire of 2023 was an unequivocally devastating wildfire that ravaged Lahaina, a cherished town boasting unrivaled historical significance and immense popularity. 

We also analyzed another one of the alleged author's books, "The Life story of Hunter Biden: The President's Son - A Life of Tragedy, Drama, Addiction And Scandal." When we inserted its description into the ZeroGPT tool — software that assess whether content is AI-generated — it said that the text was 100% AI-generated. It was possible that the author's modus operandi was producing controversial books using AI, perhaps to easily earn money. (For the book about the Maui fires, the listed price for a paperback was $17.09 and less for a Kindle version). 

(ZeroGPT screenshot)

Maui authorities have not yet specified an exact cause of the fires. However, hot and dry weather conditions are believed to have significantly contributed to the disaster. Since the beginning of August 2023 we have fact-checked various claims about the wildfires. For instance, we have debunked a picture, allegedly showing a "direct energy weapon" started the fires, that was used out of context. What's more, in another article we explained why the animated series "The Simpsons" did not predict the use of a "directed energy weapon" there.

Aleksandra Wrona is a reporting fellow for Snopes, based in the Warsaw area.