Our love and hate for fire

Fire is supposed to be our friend.

It brings us warmth, light and energy.

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Without the ability to use and control fire, there wouldn't have been the human race as we know it. Fire lit our path, cooked our food, allowed us to build tools and power our way forward.

Yet we've always been wary of fire, too. In much of the Christian tradition, Hell is the inferno and evil is personified by the red and orange of flames. The same fire that warms our bodies can burn as well. We encourage our children to approach the fire to stay warm and then punish them for standing too close. Like our kids, we feel at peace staring into the random flames, the orange glow triggering a release of melatonin in our brains that make us feel calm, peaceful and sleepy.

From our fireplaces and our stoves to our campfires and our candles, we have become accustomed to controlling fire. It may be a domesticated animal but fire is still wild and when it runs free, it only knows how to destroy, its power fierce, cruel and disrespectful to the humans who depend upon it.

In both nature and human mythology, new life emerges from the ashes but only after the flames and the heat have departed, taking what was there before and leaving room for the newness to come. That is true but a great cost must be paid in advance. The phoenix rises from the ashes but only after it dies a horrible and painful death first.

Our first stories were about fire because we recognized its power, like our own, could be used for good or harm. Like water and air and earth, the other three ancient elements, we recognized our ability to harness fire but total control will always elude our grasp.

Whether the fire comes from the sky in the form of lightning, the heat is greater than the surface of the sun or when it ignites from the irresponsibility of humans, with their cigarettes, abandoned campfires and drifting sparks from celebratory night blazes, the flames don't care who their parents are. They seek only fuel and oxygen to survive and grow. Their appetite is endless.

The forests have developed their own relationship with fire.

Over millions of years, trees and forests evolved with an unwritten process of self-cremation, that the fire would eventually come through, scrubbing the forest like a foot file, scraping away the dead skin and the waste, germinating the seeds on the ground, opening up the sun and the sky to a new generation. Humans have hampered the ability of the forests to do this over thousands of years but we are but recent intruders on this process.

We may manage when the forests lives and die but we will never control its deep relationships with fire, just like our best efforts can't always hold back the flood waters, the landslides or the smoke from drifting hundreds of kilometres, crossing geographical and political borders, to pollute the air and sting our eyes and lungs.

We are blessed with the comforts that have come from our ability to tame the fire and the forests. We are further blessed to live among the trees in this part of the province, rather than being surrounded by concrete, glass and metal. But we must also accept that when fire meets living forest, dead brush and a steady wind, we join the other animals of the woods, running for our lives.

We fight to save our homes and our properties but we are humbled by the sound. Evacuees close enough to hear what a forest fire sounds like will never forget it. To some, it sounds like a huge waterfall, suggesting the massive energy and flow behind it. To others, it sounds like the deep roar of a beast on the loose.

We will wrestle this beast to the ground. We will return to our homes to rebuild.

Until the next time.

-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout

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