Thinking about fire

Over the past year I’ve thought a lot about fire. It’s a natural reaction when a fire starts just blocks from your house and takes out parts of two towns near you. I’ve been reading articles and listening to podcasts and doing the things I can to make sure our house is ready if another fire comes our way.

Last week I finished a podcast series, Fireline which is the best thing I’ve consumed on the topic by far. During one of the final episodes a firefighter who lost his home in a wildfire, said this:

We don’t try to stop tornadoes or hurricanes or earthquakes. No one has any expectation for the fire department to run out there and wrestle a tornado. They just ask us to help after the event.

That line hit me like a ton of bricks. I have very clear memories of being a small child in the crawl space under the stairs with my family and the dogs on leashes as the emergency radio played and tracked severe storms and tornadoes in the area I lived. And at no time was there ever an expectation that the storm would somehow be stopped.

And yet, with fire, because of the history of working hard to stop and put out all wildfires during the 20th century, we all seem to have that expectation. And as I thought about the overall discussion that occurred on that episode and the fires that are currently burning in the southern part of Oregon where I live, it became clear to me that my expectations are out of whack. For the most part, the fires that are in my region of the state started via lightning storms, which means it was all mother nature. Yes, we can debate the way in which climate change and the severe drought are affecting things as well, but these aren’t fires that started via humans (such as power lines blowing into trees or a catalytic converter sparking a fire on a remote road); these wildfires are natural and when they intersect with property and human values we label them disasters.

As firefighter Lily Clarke says in the first episode of Fireline:

Fire in itself is not an issue. It is only an issue when it begins to threaten human values.

I’m now working on accepting and being at peace with where I live, the wildland urban interface, and what that means. The best I can hope for, just as other folks who endure natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes, is to get enough warning to grab the go bags and the other items on our evacuation checklist and get out before the fire hits.