I use it to heat when winter winds rattle the windows. I love the schwedenfakels where the flames dance within the logs. A brush fire in the fall; the smell of the burning leaves, the crackling branches as they catch, the cinders rising into the night sky.
There have been other times when fire brought terror. In November of 2006, my neighbor’s house burned to the ground. It was a log cabin, dry as tinder and it lit up the sky with its terrible force. We have no hydrants, only fire ponds. The pitch of his driveway was too steep for the trucks. Hoses snaked up the hill, fed from the temporary pools set up in the street. Tanker trucks raced from the nearest fire ponds and filled the pools. There was no hope of saving anything, the goal was to keep it from spreading to the woods and my house beyond. Hours later, when everyone had packed up and left but one volunteer, I watched as the cratered mess flared up again. Insulation burns forever.
When I lived in Trinidad, the Hindu population had a penchant for holding huge funerals along the coastal roads. South Mosquito Creek had a gravelly shoreline and room to park the many busses and vehicles that brought the throngs. A funeral pyre was constructed of pallets and scrap wood. Loud speakers blasted the wailing music of mourning. I remember the choking black clouds of smoke, faintly incensed, as we drove by. I have no photos but did find this quick YouTube video from 2012. You get an idea of the spectacle but what amazed me was seeing folks strolling the same beach days later as if there had been no inferno there.
In the August of 1983 I happened to be walking the back streets of Newburyport when I smelled smoke. I turned a corner and came face-to-face with the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. Bright golden flames were shooting from one window, starkly hot against the creamy white of the clapboard. It took my mind a minute to process what I was seeing. Suddenly the world erupted with people, sirens and trucks. But the fire was faster than man, and much stronger. I had my camera with me and shot roll after roll of Kodachrome slides. One day I will have them digitized, but the truth is, they still horrify me.
Fire, water, air; the simple elements that are critical to life. We strive to control rivers with dams, to harness the power of water. Air is channeled to produce electricity through wind farms that feed our unquenchable needs. Fire has always seemed a wild beast we can never truly tame.